There are 351 Division I college basketball teams in the United States. Not knowing each and every one of the head coaches of those programs allows for quite a bit of hyperbole by singling out an individual as one of a kind, unique to all the rest in the industry.
But if there’s one about whom a blanket statement could be made with confidence, it’s the guy at Notre Dame.
Only Mike Brey.
Monday night, as “An Evening With Notre Dame Basketball” came to an end, Brey uncharacteristically slipped out undetected as the final presentation of the night – a video recapping the season – rolled to its conclusion.
Maybe he had somewhere to be. Maybe he had to get some ice on his ailing calf, an injury suffered during Notre Dame’s Elite Eight victory over Wisconsin. Maybe he had a press release statement to work on.
Less than 24 hours after the celebration of Notre Dame’s second Elite Eight appearance, after bidding adieu to seniors Zach Auguste and A.J. Burgett, and after fond farewells to Demetrius Jackson, who plans on playing in the NBA next year with a year of eligibility still on the table, Notre Dame put out a statement regarding V.J. Beachem.
Beachem, awarded Notre Dame’s most improved player during Monday night’s festivities, announced that he would take advantage of the new rule that allows players with eligibility remaining to test the waters at the NBA’s mid-May combine in Chicago without loss of eligibility, provided said player does not sign with an agent.
It came as a bit of a surprise. Beachem’s sudden rise in the ACC and NCAA tournaments put a new star on display, one who played like a first-team all-ACC selection were Beachem to return for his senior season.
Although it would be no surprise to hear Brey’s involvement in Beachem’s decision to stick a big toe in the NBA waters, it remains startling to hear the lengths that the 16-year Irish head coach will go for his players.
“After our run in the tournament, Coach Brey brought up the idea of entering my name in the NBA Draft process, and after talking with my family, I am excited about this opportunity,” said Beachem in a released statement by the University.
“I really pushed for V.J. to take advantage of the new rules to get a better understanding of his future in professional basketball,” Brey said.
“He finished the season on an outstanding run and the ability to go through this process will be another step forward in his confidence as a player and as a leader in our program. This can really set him up for a great finish to his college career or provide him the opportunity to play the game at its highest level.”
Beachem, of course, is not ready for the NBA. His physical strength lags behind most NBA-ready prospects. Six games ACC/NCAA tournament games do not make NBA-ready players. He’s just now learning to supplement is deadly outside game.
Of course, anything is possible. The name Carlton Scott comes to mind. But even Beachem’s statement indicates to some degree that he’s doing this for the betterment of his career long-term, not so he can jump into the 2016 NBA draft. As of now, he does not intend to hire an agent.
“The process will allow me to push my development to another level and get a better idea of what the organizations in the NBA think of my abilities on the court at this point in my career,” Beachem said.
Beachem will almost undoubtedly be back for his senior season, particularly if he is excluded from the list of invitees to the NBA combine. There are no guarantees. He has until 10 days after the combine to remove his name from the NBA draft list.
If he is included in the combine, the experience will only add to a confidence that was skyrocketing during the ACC and NCAA tournaments when he averaged 16.6 points per game (after averaging 10.4 during the regular season) and finished shooting 43.2 percent from three-point range following a 19-of-35 three-point shooting clinic in post-season play.
How many coaches – after losing Jackson a year early to the NBA – would not only support but initiate and encourage a player whose absence from the 2016-17 roster would be devastating to the program?
Not many, maybe only one, and yet it shows why Notre Dame is rarely out of a game, why the Irish can overcome just about any deficit, and why David has been able to slay Goliath the last two years. The players have Brey’s back as a direct result of Brey having their backs at all costs.
Now make no mistake, there are benefits for Brey to encourage Beachem to test his skills in front of NBA executives and against NBA aspirants. This will be another step in the rapid growth of Beachem and his game.
It took Beachem nearly three years at Notre Dame to have the confidence that he displayed in six post-season games in March. Mixing with NBA-level prospects for a week will be extremely beneficial to Beachem, to be sure, but Notre Dame and Brey’s bottom line as well provided he returns.
But as Brey has proven time and again, it wouldn’t matter. He’s always going to put the well being of his players ahead of any potential shortcoming such a decision would have on his program.
The added benefit is that it sends out a reassuring message to recruits who may be considering Notre Dame that says, “I can go to Notre Dame and play in the NBA, just like other high-level programs.” Brey knows – and has even intimated – that Notre Dame’s recent Elite Eight runs are directly tied to putting NBA-level talent on the court.
Brey is a coach that wants to win, needs to win for peace of mind. But he’s a teacher first and foremost, and that’s simply the pecking order by which he prioritizes life.
Earlier Monday evening, Notre Dame Vice President and Director of Athletics, Jack Swarbrick, put a fine point on Notre Dame’s/Brey’s accomplishments on the hardwood in recent years.
Out of 351 Division I basketball teams, Notre Dame is one of 17 programs to make the NCAA tournament at least six times in the last seven years.
Over the last four years, spanning Auguste’s career with the Irish, Notre Dame is one of 10 teams to make the Elite Eight twice. No one has done it more than that in the last four seasons. The other schools to do it twice are Arizona, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan, Michigan State, Syracuse and Wisconsin.
With the loss of Auguste and Jackson, Elite Eight predictions for Notre Dame during the 2016-17 pre-season will be in short supply. But they were until two years ago, and now, the Irish have become a program that expects to at least get to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament and hang around until the end of Sweet 16 weekend.
“Outside of this group right here, we’ll be thought of as an NIT team,” said Brey as the presentation ended Monday night. “We’ll work on that. We’re pretty good at that.”
He’s pretty good at keeping his coaching priorities in order, too. If he’s not the one and only among 351 coaches who would do that, he’s on a very short list.null