Brey discusses team’s leadership, NCAA scandal at first practice of season
Marek Mazurek | Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Monday marked the first official practice of Notre Dame’s season, with head coach Mike Brey’s squad looking to improve on an appearance in the ACC title game and a third-straight trip to the NCAA tournament.
And with senior forward Bonzie Colson getting recognition as the Blue Ribbon preseason player of the year, and Brey sitting on the No. 2 recruiting class in the country according to 247sports, the confidence level in South Bend is high.
“[The confidence level is] higher, and I’m sure we’ll be picked that way in the ACC poll as opposed to other years,” Brey said Monday. “We only have one freshman … we really are a pretty focused, driven group. The leadership of Bonzie, [graduate student forward Austin] Torres, even [guard] Rex Pflueger is emerging as a great voice for us as a junior, how they’ve handled their business with their strength training, I’ve been really impressed with that.
“We’ve had a great rotation of old teams and some are really, really good. I feel this group’s as good as any of them as far as just getting it, understanding it, working and wanting to do it together.”
“We’re all getting a lot more comfortable, the confidence is there,” Pflueger said. “Now is the point in time for us to go in together and start practicing and I think going in every single day is going to be good for us, because we know we have the talent level to do great things this year and go deep in any tournament that we’re in.”
Notre Dame only lost two players from last year’s team: former wings Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem. Though both were solid producers on the court, their absence will be felt the most off of it.
Filling their shoes as leaders for the 2017–18 season will be Colson, senior guard Matt Farrell, Torres and Pflueger.
Brey said the biggest challenge for the new group of leaders will be keeping the team calm, since Colson, Farrell and Pflueger are naturally more intense players than Beachem or Vasturia who Brey jokingly described as “listening to jazz” during team huddles.
“I’m going to have to keep them steady,” Brey said. “You look at the personalities of Farrell, Colson, Pflueger and Gibbs, they are edgy guys and emotional guys. Ninety-eight percent of that is good and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’d rather have that and downshift it than have to inject it. But when we don’t have success, in the midst of a game and in the midst of a tough stretch in the ACC, can we be poised and understand the big picture? I think that’s going to be a big part of my job.”
Pflueger agreed that this year’s team will be more emotionally-charged than last year’s, but noted that is a good thing.
“I think our team this year is definitely more emotional, not in a bad way,” Pflueger said. “But in a sense that we’re hungry and excited to prove ourselves once again this year. We have a lot of intensity that’s going to be shown on both sides of the ball.”
Meanwhile, Farrell said that Brey has talked to him about being the quarterback of the team and with that, comes new responsibility handling adversity.
“Something’s definitely going to have to change this year,” Farrell said. “Losing [Vasturia and Beachem] who are always calm no matter what’s going on is tough. I think Bonzie does a great job in huddles too and calming down. That’s something we take a lot of pride in — our huddles. Coach Brey rarely says a lot in there, we’re usually always talking to each other trying to figure things out. That’s something that we have to figure out, finding guys that will keep us mid-level throughout the whole game.
“Obviously I play with a lot of emotions, but when it comes down to important situations and stuff like that, it’s something that I’ll be able to do.”
Beyond Notre Dame, the college basketball world is being rocked by an FBI investigation into corruption and money laundering involving athletic-wear companies paying prospects to attend schools which have deals with those companies.
Brey said the scandal is “disappointing” and said the FBI’s involvement sets a new precedent.
“I don’t know if we can get any lower than the situation we’re in now,” Brey said. “We’ve had kind of this underworld that’s been part of the fabric for a long, long time. But now that it’s a criminal investigation, it’s all new territory.”
Brey said the challenge for him, specifically is to not let it become a distraction to the upcoming season.
“What I’ve tried to do starting yesterday, I even told my staff today, is to try not to be distracted by this and coach my team,” Brey said. “Because everyday people want to talk about that and I don’t really have much more to comment on besides what I’ve just said.”
Brey said that he feels very involved with all aspects of his program and that Notre Dame recruits players aren’t be attracted by payouts, but when asked if Notre Dame’s program was clear of any wrongdoing related to the recent scandal, Brey admitted it’s hard to know for sure every single thing that goes on in a program.
“I’m pretty darn confident of how we do business, but you never know completely,” Brey said. “There’s no question about it, I really pride myself on really being plugged in to everything that’s going on, but I’ve always been very confident, our philosophy, how we run it, the kids that are attracted to us.”
Brey announced Monday that Austin Torres is dealing with a stress fracture and will sit out between one month and six weeks. Notre Dame’s first exhibition game of the season falls on Nov. 3 against Bethel and the Irish start their regular season on Nov. 11 versus DePaul. Brey said that Torres being ready to play on Nov. 11 would be “tight” in reference to his recovery timeline.