Mike Brey believes he has the oldest roster of Notre Dame tenure

Mike Brey believes he has the oldest roster of Notre Dame tenure

mike brey, the purveyor of assembling rosters with the goal of getting old and staying old, has stretched that philosophy further than ever before. Brey begins his 23rd season as Notre Dame head coach with half his team comprised of grad students. The clear-cut top seven includes five fifth-year seniors.

Of all his rosters at Notre Dame, he thinks this one is his oldest. How old? The average age of the top seven is 21.1 years. The Oklahoma City Thunder’s top five returning scorers have an average age of 21.8. One of Notre Dame’s new offseason staff hires, development and recruiting coordinator Ryan Greeris younger than six players.

“This is really a record,” Brey said. “We’ve lived on the older thing as a rule of thumb.”

PROMOTION: Sign up for just $1 for your first year at Blue & Gold

Guard Cormac Ryanguard Dane Goodwinguard Marcus Hammondguard Trey Wertzguard Robby Carmody and forward Nate Laszewski are all pursuing master’s degrees. Some of them are in the Mendoza School of Business and juggling its requirements along with basketball duties. Practice is scheduled around them — 4 to 6 pm Monday through Thursday and earlier on the weekends.

“Graduate school is so demanding, I’m like, ‘Do we have to go at 7 in the morning or 7 at night?’” Brey said. “Their courses and their meetings, it’s all really cool stuff, but we’ve never had that many graduate guys.”

The result is a dynamic between Brey and his players that’s more peer-to-peer than player to coach. He takes the trio of captains and five-year players he deems the Big Three — Ryan, Goodwin and Laszewski — out to eat every other week. Those meetings, he says, make him feel like he’s the student, not the teacher.

“It’s more me listening than talking, because those guys have seen it all,” Brey said. “They’re going to set the tone and run things for us.”

The message from them, in short, is to keep building. Push further. Build on last year’s NCAA Tournament return and the two wins in it. Continue to do what got them there. Reach a new level of their usual style of sharing the ball and making good decisions.

“Just continue to play the right way,” Ryan said. “That has been a theme last year and we’re not straying away from that. We’re sticking to it and sticking to what we do well, especially when times get tough and tough moments in games, just continue to be ourselves and trust each other.”

Observations from watching Notre Dame men’s basketball first practice

The goal this season is no longer simply to reach the tournament, which was the stated No. 1 priority from the first offseason workout last year. Everything revolved around it. Now, they’re thinking about advancing — and going far. Last season gave them affirmation that a deep March run can be more than a daydream.

For it to happen, the Irish’s veteran core needs to lead it there. It needs to have a sense of ownership. Captain titles and breakfasts where they can voice their views to Brey create the latter and are signs of trust from the staff.

“For him to be able to trust us and have the confidence in the three of us to lead this group, it means a lot,” Ryan said.

Brey has assembled his oldest roster in a time where college basketball has established players returning to school at a rate not seen in recent years — or perhaps decades. One factor is the COVID-19 bonus year of eligibility granted to anyone who was on a roster during the 2020-21 season. Goodwin, Wertz and Laszewski exercised that option for one more season at Notre Dame, which will be their fifth full college campaign. Hammond used it to grad transfer to Notre Dame following a four-year career at Niagara.

The other factor in talent retention is three letters. NIL College stars who aren’t top NBA prospects now have an avenue to potentially make more money staying in school than they would in the G League or on an NBA two-way contract. One example: Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe became the first unanimous national player of the year to return to college since North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough in 2008.

“College basketball is really old,” Brey said. “You almost better be old now. Old was a little bit of an advantage, and maybe we were a little ahead of the game my early years — we were built with four- and five-year guys. So you could get a good rhythm to things. Now—look at [North] Carolina’s roster, look at Virginia, look at how people have recovered after losing good players. For us, there’s no question. I don’t think we’ve ever had this old a rotation.”

Even with it, Notre Dame is likely going to start two freshmen: guard JJ Starling and forward Ven-Allen Lubin. The former is a five-star prospect who has appeared in early 2023 NBA mock drafts. The seniors are tone-setters, but those two have as big a hand in Notre Dame’s ability to reach its goals as anyone else.

They’re about the only thing different with the Irish this year, aside from the heightened expectations. Last year was about a senior class helping Notre Dame get off the mat. This year is for thinking big in that same group’s last go-round.

“They can talk about playing deep in the tournament,” Brey said, “because they felt advancing in the tournament.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *