Mike Brey relives his time with Duke basketball as he battles his teacher
Photo Courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics
Nearly 20 years later, Brey will begin his tenure as an ACC coach by squaring off with his mentor as his Fighting Irish host Krzyzewski's Duke squad in their first conference game as a member of the ACC.
"TV and the conference office loves interesting storylines, I guess," said Brey, who served as an assistant at Duke from 1987-95. "I think it's great for our players to be indoctrinated into the Atlantic Coast Conference with 'the program' of the Atlantic Coast Conference."
Brey began his career with the Blue Devils without any head coaching experience. After concluding his collegiate playing career at George Washington, Brey was an assistant for five seasons at his alma mater, DeMatha Catholic High School. He was then approached by Krzyzewski, who was fresh off his first Final Four appearance at Duke, and made the jump straight from one of the nation's top high school programs to the ACC.
After eight seasons in Durham, Brey emerged a grizzled veteran and was prepared to take the first head coaching job of his career at Delaware. Now 54 years old, Brey points to his time with Krzyzewski as one that helped to shape the coach he is today.
"I'll always be indebted to Mike because he hired me when I was a high school assistant coach and gave me an opportunity to go down there for eight years and really train me to be a head coach," Brey said. "I draw on that experience every day since I've been a head coach.... I owe him a lot."
Brey's tenure at Duke was one of the most successful stretches in the program's history. In Brey's eight seasons, the Blue Devils made six Final Four appearances, played in four national championship games and captured two national titles.
"Eight years there were unbelievable. It was six Final Fours," Brey said. "It was not reality—quite frankly—in coaching."
Another familiar face Brey will square off with Saturday when Duke and Notre Dame take the court will be Blue Devil associate head coach Steve Wojciechowski, who Brey recruited before the point guard began his collegiate career in 1994.
Brey doesn't pretend to be shy about Wojciechowski's recruitment, either.
"Steve Wojciechowski owes me, because I was the guy who really forced Mike K and Tommy Amaker to offer him a scholarship after the ABCD camp in Ypsilanti, Mich., and I always tease Steve about that," Brey said.
Wojciechowski, who was recruited mainly by Ivy League schools before Brey discovered him, said that his performance at the camp was made more impressive by the fact that he was the only English-speaking player on his team. After watching Wojciechowski paired with nine Russian players not long after the fall of the Soviet Union, Brey's recruiting pitch to Krzyzewski was not without its Cold War roots.
"As the story goes, Coach K and Coach Brey were walking to the car, and Coach K asked Coach Brey, 'Do you think this kid can really play at Duke?" Wojciechowski said. "And Coach Brey said, 'If he can lead a bunch of Russians, I think he can lead our team too.' I guess the rest is history."
The last time Brey faced Duke was back in 2002, when the Blue Devils notched a hard-fought 84-77 victory to send Notre Dame packing in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"I remember we let one get away," Brey said. "Chris Thomas was on the line, probably an 88 percent free-throw shooter, with a one-and-one and a chance to go up seven," Brey said. "He misses and I believe Daniel Ewing hits a three in front of the Duke bench, and we just couldn't finish."
With Brey searching for redemption from that loss more than a decade ago, Wojciechowski said there will be no love lost when Duke and the Fighting Irish match up to open ACC play—pleasantries can wait until after the final buzzer.
"It's different in the sense that the people you're competing against you also consider part of your extended family," Wojciechowski said. "Once the ball goes up in the air, all that goes out the window and your sole mission is to win the game."