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Mike Brey And Notre Dame Are Ready To Turn The Corner ... Again

Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey is ready to do what he's done before and get the Irish back on track

This is a perfect kind of moment for Notre Dame basketball coach Mike Brey.

Nobody comes back from the dead like Brey.

The Irish have had losing records in two of their last three years and they haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since the 2016-2017 season.

That’s a recipe for getting fired at some places.

There was noise last year about Brey (not from him) “retiring.” It was wishful thinking from a certain part of the fan base, who had grown weary of the self-described loosest coach in America.

Being loose only gets you so far when you are finishing at the bottom of the conference. Brey wasn’t leaving, and there was never a possibility that he was going to be asked to step down.

The upside for Brey, and perhaps for the program, is that Notre Dame Athletics Director Jack Swarbrick has always exhibited an unusual amount of patience for his coaches.

He allows them to reinvent themselves. He figures it’s a better investment, in the long run, to let good coaches figure it out than to start out with someone new.

Brey has earned the right to leave on his terms. He’s the winningest coach in Notre Dame history. He ushered Notre Dame into modern college basketball first in the Big East, and then in the ACC. He reportedly turned down better jobs when he was hot because he was always a Notre Dame guy

The Irish have made three Sweet 16 appearances and two trips to the Elite Eight under Brey.

Brey has turned it around before under dire circumstances. His 2013-2014 team finished 15-17. The next year, his best team ever was a shot away from making it to the Final Four. The Irish lost to Kentucky by two points in the Elite Eight.

Notre Dame went to the NIT three straight years from 2004 to 2006 but then he led them to the NCAA Tournament in six of the next seven seasons.

This team looks like it could be really good, and unusually deep, and I can’t help but think that Brey knows he’s sitting on a trove of talent that only he truly understands right now.

The biggest nugget might be Paul Atkinson Jr., a 6-foot-9 graduate transfer from Yale. Atkinson averaged 17.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game in 2019-2020, which was his last season. Atkinson was the Ivy League Player of the Year that season. Aside from not being much of a 3-point threat, Atkinson can do it all inside.

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“He’s got great footwork and hands around the basket,” Brey said. “He’s also a great passer. He’s an old player. He knows how to use his body defensively. He can rebound and he has nice quick feet.” 

Atkinson, playing alongside Nate Laszewski, a 6-10 senior forward who averaged 13.3 points and 7.3 rebounds a game, gives the Irish two skilled big men they haven’t really ever had under Brey.

Add in an experienced mix of players like guards Prentiss Hubb, Dane Goodwin, Cormac Ryan, a promising freshman like Blake Wesley, and a second-year freshman like Tony Sanders who appears ready to step out, and this looks like it could be a season where the loosest coach in America gets his swag back.

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