Mike Brey’s next matchup against his former boss probably won’t go quite like the first.
“The first game was definitely a favor,” Brey said of Delaware’s trip to Cameron Indoor Stadium in 1995.
After eight years and two national champions as a Duke assistant, Brey had just left the Duke bench to take his first head-coaching job. And one of the first calls he made as Delaware coach was to Mike Krzyzewski.
“I asked him, ‘Hey, I’m trying to get things going here,’” Brey recalled. “The game was put on ESPN2, and for Delaware to be on ESPN2 was an awesome thing.”
The Blue Hens put up a good fight against the 21st-ranked Blue Devils, leading by three in the first half and outscoring Duke in the second before losing 79-73. Current Duke assistants Jeff Capel, Chris Collins, and Steve Wojchiechowski combined for 41 of Duke’s 79 points.
Brey exchanged hugs with the Duke players, most of whom he’d helped recruit, before the game, and compliments with Coach K afterward.
“It was a great trip,” Brey said on Wednesday. “That’s a neat challenge, to come and play in Cameron.”
It’s a challenge that will come more regularly for Brey, now the head coach of Notre Dame. The Irish joined the ACC, meaning that more potential matchups between mentor and pupil could be on the horizon.
That 1995 game was the closest a Mike Brey team has come to beating Krzyzewski and Duke. They played a second time, when Brey had moved on to Notre Dame, in the second round of the 2002 tournament.
“We beat Charlotte in the first round in Greenville, and we played them in the second round,” Brey remembered. It was one of those second-round matchups between former colleagues that tournament organizers claim happen by accident, but seem to happen pretty frequently.
“I hate it,” Krzyzewski said at the time. “It’s not even a like or a dislike…I hate playing against people that are part of the family.”
“It was a game we should have won,” Brey recalled. “We missed some free throws late.”
The final margin of defeat was seven points — 84-77.
“So I’m 0 and 2 against him,” Brey said with a shrug.
Despite the prospect of playing against Krzyzewski, Brey is excited about the chance to compete in the ACC.
“I grew up with ACC roots,” he said. “I went to Maryland basketball camp as a kid and lived for eight years in Durham…I’m really excited about the new challenge for our basketball program. I’m looking forward to it.”
“I still know some of the barbeque places around here,” he added. “I know where to find stuff.”
Brey made the trip to Chapel Hill for the ACC press conference announcing the move. “I haven’t talked to Mike yet,” he said afterward. “I think maybe I’ll give him a call before we leave town today. I talked to him in the summer though, a little bit, before he got going in the Olympics.”
While nothing was finalized at the time, there were rumors of negotiations between Notre Dame and the ACC swirling around. Despite his distaste for competing against family members, Coach K was supportive of the potential move, Brey said.
“Of course, you’re talking about a Catholic guy from Chicago,” Brey said, “so he certainly knows all about Notre Dame. I think he was excited about the possibility of it happening.”
And as for concerns about hard feelings coming from going head-to-head with Coach K? “No, that’ll be fun,” he said. “I look forward to it. He’s a good friend. We stay in close touch. That’ll be an exciting challenge to come back and play at Duke and in Chapel Hill.”
Then Brey decided to give the potential ACC rivalries a stir. “It’ll be nice to get them at our place too, because last time I checked, we win a lot of games at home. It’ll be good to get them up our way.”
“It gets really cold up there in the winter,” he continued. “You’ve got to let all those people know. And we don’t shovel the snow. When you come up, we’re going to make it uncomfortable for you.”
Brey thinks the Irish are a good fit for the ACC. “When I watch this league, I think there’s a skill level and finesse to it,” he said. “Not that it’s not a physical league. It’s a very physical league, but I think there’s more skill level (than the Big East). We’re a different matchup for teams in the Big East because of our skill set. There are a lot more teams that play like us in this league--really high basketball I.Q.s. I just think it’s going to be the league to watch. It’s going to be the deepest league in the country. It’ll be a league that gets eight or nine NCAA tournament bids annually. We had that in the Big East, and then we lost some of that. ”
“I think everybody was jealous of our depth in the Big East, and maybe that’s why some people were picked off. And I guess we followed that today.”
What Brey refers to as the “new-look ACC” has several other teams he’s familiar with.
“I’m excited to still be able to play at Pitt and at the Carrier Dome, and Boston College—we had a great rivalry with Boston College and lost that a little bit,” he said. “Blacksburg—we won a division championship my first year in the Big East winning at Virginia Tech on the last day of the season, back when I had Troy Murphy. Miami—we used to play Miami and had a great win at the old Miami Arena. To still have that old Big East flavor mixed in is exciting.”
But at heart, it’s the classic ACC teams that will get Brey most excited. “I’m still kind of grasping this whole thing,” he said. “I’ve thought about all the what-ifs and didn’t know if it would ever really happen. For me, it kind of touches down deep, because I grew up an ACC guy.”
“Maybe I’ve come full circle here for the stretch run,” he added.