- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Mike Brey’s senior season at George Washington hadn’t ended yet, but that didn’t prevent Morgan Wootten from pestering his former pupil about joining him as an assistant coach at DeMatha High School.

It was the spring of 1982, and Wootten had seen many players come and go through his 26 seasons of coaching basketball. But few stood out like Brey, the son of a basketball coach, who had been ingrained with every tactic and measured by every nuance necessary to succeed.

“I said, ‘Man, hurry up and graduate, because I need a coach. I’ve got an open spot,’” Wootten, now 82, said by telephone Tuesday afternoon. “When he graduated, he immediately came to DeMatha full-time as my assistant coach, and he taught history. I could see there that he just really had it. Kids loved him. Great teacher. That’s what the great coaches are – they’re great teachers. He knew how to get his point across.”

For the first time in over a decade, Brey was back at George Washington, where he was honored at halftime of the Colonials’ game against VCU. Despite playing only one year at the university, he will   be inducted into its athletic Hall of Fame on Feb. 8.

“This place, Foggy Bottom, to the Brey family, means so much,” Brey said Tuesday evening. “Any way I can plug back in and support this university and athletic department, you know, I’m in with both feet.”

Brey, 54, graduated from DeMatha in 1977, then accepted a basketball scholarship from Northwestern Louisiana State – the only one he was offered. He led the team in assists and steals his first three years, but when his coach, Tynes Hildebrand, was fired following Brey’s junior season, he chose to return home.

Brey’s mother, Betty, was once the swimming coach at George Washington, and his father, Paul, earned a Master’s degree from the university, so finishing his degree in Foggy Bottom was a natural decision. Bob Tallent, then the men’s basketball coach, happened to catch Brey playing in a pick-up basketball game one night and asked him to join the team.

The beneficiary of his mother’s employment, Brey attended George Washington tuition free and played as a walk-on, but still sat out a year as a transfer student. Tallent was fired after the 1980-81 season, causing Brey to wonder if his place on the team was still valid, but new coach Gerry Gimelstob welcomed him with open arms.

Brey finished his college career during the 1981-82 season, when he averaged nearly five points, five rebounds and five assists over 24 games. One of Brey’s signature moments that season was a late jump shot he made to give George Washington a 79-74 home victory over Pittsburgh on Jan. 11.

Years later, after Brey was introduced at Notre Dame, Gimelstob sent Brey a photo of that shot.

“I think the thing that really came out to me, which was really important for me as a first-year coach, was his maturity,” Gimelstob, who coached the Colonials for three more seasons, said by telephone on Tuesday. “I knew he would be a great leader. I knew he was very mature and really had a great understanding of the game.”

Brey coached with Wootten for five seasons before joining the college ranks. He was first an assistant coach to Mike Krzyzewski at Duke in 1987, then was named the coach at Delaware in 1995. Notre Dame hired Brey in 2000, and the Fighting Irish have qualified for the NCAA tournament nine times in 13 seasons. Because of that success, he was handed a 10-year contract extension in June 2012.

Notre Dame will play Maryland on Wednesday the first, and perhaps the only, time as ACC opponents. Notre Dame joined the conference this season after leaving the Big East, and Maryland will leave for the Big Ten this summer; with no area opponents on the schedule, Brey said Tuesday he’s spoken to George Washington coach Mike Lonergan, who used to attend Wootten’s summer camps while in high school, about starting a series.

Wootten, who remains close with Brey, said Brey’s ability to develop and inspire his players hasn’t waned. At one point during Brey’s stint as his assistant coach, Wootten failed to connect with a young Danny Ferry, who would go on to play at Duke and have a 13-year career in the NBA. After weeks of frustration, Wootten asked Brey for help.

“He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, Coach. I’ve got it,” Wootten recalled. “He came back, I tell you, the next day, and he said, ‘Don’t worry about a thing. It’s all taken care of.’ From that moment on, [Ferry] was the most coachable, reachable guy I ever had.

“[Brey] was a great motivator. He made all the other players around him better.”

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