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Mike Brey nears record for wins at Notre Dame

January 3, 2018

A worker drops a banner reading "393," the number of program wins Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey has accumulated, following an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia Tech, Saturday, Dec. 30, 2017, in South Bend, Ind. The number ties the program record set by former Notre Dame basketball coach Digger Phelps. (AP Photo/Robert Franklin)

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Mike Brey insists he is more concerned about starting 2-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference than he is a much bigger number that he has been building for the past 17-plus years at Notre Dame.

“It’s more important than 394,” Brey said Tuesday by the Purcell Pavilion basketball court where overhead a banner has charted his run to 393, the record for men’s basketball victories at Notre Dame he currently shares with Digger Phelps.

The 76-year-old Phelps will be on hand to watch as Brey’s Fighting Irish (11-3, 1-0 ACC) take on North Carolina State (10-4, 0-1) on Wednesday night.

“I’m really happy for Mike and what he has done,” Phelps said Saturday at halftime of Notre Dame’s victory over Georgia Tech. “He’s done a great job in the Big East as well as the ACC. I wish him continued success.”

The task got more difficult with news that senior forward Bonzie Colson will miss up to eight weeks with a broken left foot suffered in practice. The 6-foot-6 Colson, who averaged 21.4 points and 10.4 rebounds per game, was scheduled for surgery Thursday.

“We are all feeling for Bonzie right now,” Brey said. “We need to embrace this challenge. This program has lost key guys before and we figured out a way to earn an NCAA bid.”

Now in his 18th season at Notre Dame, Brey’s teams have made 16 postseason appearances, including back-to-back NCAA Elite Eight showings in 2015 (when they also won the ACC championship) and 2016. Phelps, whose 1973-74 team ended UCLA’s 88-game winning streak and whose 1977-78 team reached the Final Four, coached 20 seasons at Notre Dame and had 17 postseason appearances.

“Digger had an unbelievable run here,” the 58-year-old Brey said. “The program he built made us a national name, and I’ve benefited from that. To have a chance to go by him is pretty powerful and I am very humbled by it.”

Brey, who often jokes that he just hoped to be good enough at Notre Dame not to get fired, was Mike Krzyzewski’s assistant at Duke before taking the head job at Delaware prior to the 1995-96 season. In five years, he amassed a 99-52 record, won two America East Conference titles and took the Blue Hens to two NCAA tournaments. Brey first interviewed with Notre Dame following the 1998-99 season but lost out to Matt Doherty. But in the summer of 2000, the job opened again when Doherty left for his alma mater North Carolina.

Long-time assistant coach Rod Balanis, who moved from Delaware to Notre Dame with Brey, said he can’t remember his boss ever mentioning the all-time wins record that will come with his next victory.

“He hasn’t brought this up at all,” Balanis said. “It’s going to be special. It will finally hit him a little bit. But knowing Mike Brey the way I know him, he’d be happier if we get off to a good start and catch our stride. He’s always thinking about our team.”

His players are of a similar mindset.

“Every game in this league is important,” senior guard Matt Farrell said. “If you can get a win in this league it’s good. If you can get on a win streak, that’s even better. You’ve got to appreciate these games at home and this is a really special game (Wednesday). We’ve got to make sure we get it for him.”

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