With the Notre Dame bus rolling down Embassy Row, Mike Brey talked and pointed. Brey hadn’t been a regular in the city for some time — he’s been busy in Indiana coaching the Fighting Irish — but was still serving as an excited tour guide.
The memories of Washington and Maryland are plentiful for Brey as he arrives with his team for the ACC tournament. Born in Bethesda, he eventually played for legendary coach Morgan Wootten at DeMatha Catholic High School. He spent his final two years of college at George Washington. He later returned to DeMatha to run the junior varsity team and work as an assistant under Wootten.
So, when the ACC tournament was set to come to Washington, Brey was excited, and his secretary was swamped.
“I’ve looked forward to it really all year,” Brey said.
Friends and family are calling. Brey said he’s heard from cousins and old pals. He expects Wootten to be sitting in the Fighting Irish’s section. He’s hoping the two coaches he played for at George Washington — Gerry Gimelstob and Bob Tallent — will be able to make it. Brey is willing to write checks for the tickets. He’s just boxed out the communication that comes from demand to see his fourth-seeded team.
“I’ve been in the bunker,” Brey said. “My secretary is going to heaven. I said, ‘I’m not talking to any of them.’ But, she’ll say, ‘Do we take care of him?’ ‘Yeah, take care of them.’ I don’t even want to know what the bill is, but it’s worth it. It’s neat to be back here.”
Brey has been in charge at Notre Dame since 2000. His coaching journey really started when he was nine years old, then continued when he had to figure out a way from Rockville to Hyattsville in his early teen years.
Before he hit double digits, Brey was listening to Wootten’s philosophy at basketball camp. When he was 15, Brey informed his parents, who were public school teachers in Montgomery County, that he wanted to attend DeMatha. The Metro line ended in Silver Spring then, and Brey had to figure out how to cover the remaining ground.
“It was not the easiest getting from Rockville to Hyattsville in 1975,” Brey said.
Another coach gave him a lift. Former DeMatha teacher and football coach Bernie McGregor would pick up Brey at the Giant Food store in Wildwood Manor, then drive him to Hyattsville.
“Of course, it was the best decision I ever made,” Brey said.
He spent just a season each with Tallent and Gimelstob at George Washington. Brey transferred from Northwestern State to George Washington expecting his organized playing days to be done. Tallent, Brey said, saw him playing pickup and encouraged him to join the team. During the season Brey could not play because he was a transfer, Tallent was fired. Gimelstob replaced him.
The change allowed Brey to learn aspects of legendary basketball structure from both. Tallent carried elements of Adolph Rupp’s system at Kentucky. Gimelstob had worked as an assistant for Bob Knight in Indiana. That topped off a foundation of years prior, and to come, with Wootten.
When at George Washington, Brey and his Colonials teammates would take conditioning runs that looped around the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. This week, he wistfully told the players on his Notre Dame team about the jogs. Being back has stirred Brey.
“I think about, ‘Where do you want to retire?’” Brey said. “I was thinking [Tuesday] walking around, this wouldn’t be a bad place to live. Come back, live in the city. I don’t know the cool spots anymore, [but] come back, live in the city, hang out. I’m walking around, see some great restaurants — I have to get back this way some day.”
He would first like the conference tournament to shake out how it did last season. Notre Dame was the seeded third last year in Greensboro, North Carolina. It beat Miami, then Duke and, finally, North Carolina.
When this season’s bracket was settled, one of the intriguing possibilities was Notre Dame facing Duke. The Fighting Irish beat Duke, 95-91, on Jan. 16, and have won three of the last four against one of the country’s most prominent programs.
“I haven’t talked about anything past Thursday at 2 and I’ve tried not to talk about Duke because stranger things have happened,” Brey said on Tuesday. “Obviously, that’s what everybody would like to see, and we’ve had some great games with them.”
Duke survived, 92-89, against N.C. State on Wednesday afternoon. Brey will walk out Thursday to face his former boss, Mike Krzyzewski, in front of several other former bosses. For a day, his secretary can turn the phone off.