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2017 NCAA Men's Hoops: Irish Connections

March 15, 2017

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By John Heisler

Throw eight collegiate men’s basketball teams into a city for NCAA first- and second-round games and there are bound to be plenty of connections.

Here are some for Notre Dame and head coach Mike Brey:

–On a personal basis Brey may be more familiar with the Buffalo area than anyone in the Irish travel party.

The Irish are staying near the University of Buffalo campus, and Brey’s son Kyle played football (tight end and fullback) for Buffalo. So Mike spent plenty of time attending football games at Ford Field–and that topic dominated the formal portion of Brey’s NCAA press conference at KeyBank Center Wednesday.

Notre Dame’s team headquarters are adjacent to a Marriott where Brey stayed almost every time he came to see his son play. Father even leaned on son for a restaurant recommendation for the Irish team for Tuesday night.

“2008 MAC champs, baby,” said Brey Wednesday. “My son had a fabulous experience at UB. They won the MAC. As many big games and exciting games as I’ve been part of–and tomorrow will be one–there’s nothing like watching your son play and watching him play for a MAC championship in Ford Field back in 2008. He gave us the scouting report on the steakhouse last night, but a lot of great memories here at Buffalo and of UB.

“He’s a head coach now (Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte, North Carolina). He’s all fired up. They’re ready to go. They’re moving to Charlotte. He did the college thing–he’s going to do the high school thing. I’m kind of his agent. He would be pretty good back at UB someday. He’d be pretty good in about six or seven years back at UB. Let’s talk UB football, not basketball. Let’s talk MAC champs 2008.”

–The former head men’s basketball coach at the University of Buffalo is Bobby Hurley (now head coach at Arizona State), who played at Duke when Brey was an assistant coach there.

In fact, Hurley recommended current Irish guard Matt Farrell to Brey in a conversation Brey recalls clearly.

“He tried to recruit him for here at UB, I believe, at the time and he knew him and called me, actually the day I was going down to watch him,” said Brey. “He said, `Coach, I usually don’t get involved.’ He said, `I just love him.’ He kind of made a comment, `He reminds me of myself.’ I said, `Well, this evaluation is now over, I know what to do.’ I think he’s better than Hurley because he shoots it better.”

–Allen Greene, who played baseball at Notre Dame and worked in athletics administration for the Irish, is now the athletics director at the University of Buffalo. In yet another connection, Greene replaced previous UB athletic director Danny White (son of former Notre Dame athletics director Kevin White) when Danny left to become athletics director at Central Florida.

–Another team assigned to this NCAA site is West Virginia, an old rival from when both the Mountaineers and Notre Dame resided in the Big East Conference. West Virginia moved on to the Big 12 Conference, while the Irish switched to the Atlantic Coast Conference.

–West Virginia’s opponent Thursday is Bucknell and that’s where current Irish assistant coach Ryan Ayers was an assistant a year ago this time. So, as the Bucknell team took the floor for its practice time Wednesday just after Notre Dame arrived in the arena, there was a long string of hugs and handshakes between Ayers and every member of the Bucknell group in a back hallway at KeyBank Center.

–One of the veteran players on the Princeton team the Irish play Thursday is Devin Cannady, a Mishawaka, Indiana, product who played on the same Marian High School team as former Irish standout Demetrius Jackson. Cannady is a 6-1 sophomore who averages 13.7 points and led the Ivy League in free-throw percentage (.934).

“You know, there’s always a game within the game and Devin is a light bulb of a kid,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson Wednesday. “He comes into the gym and I always tell everybody, right before he takes the floor, he says, `Mishawaka,’ as loud as he can, which is where he went to high school and it’s right next to Notre Dame.”

Offered Cannady, “I’m looking forward to playing against some of my friends–V.J. Beachem and I have a close relationship. I play summer basketball with these guys, so I live right down the road. So it will be interesting. It will be really fun for me.”

–Henderson is from Vincennes, Indiana, and is an alumnus of Culver Military Academy, about 45 minutes southwest of South Bend. A Princeton graduate, he’s the 2017 Ivy League Coach of the Year.

“Now I know why Mitch Henderson looks so dang healthy,” said Brey. “He hasn’t lost since December 20. That’s really good for your blood pressure in this business. He has not lost since December. What is that like? You go through two months and you don’t lose? Must be nice.”

–Going back to West Virginia, assistant to head coach Bob Huggins is Billy Hahn, a Mishawaka, Indiana, native who played at Penn High School and went on to play at Maryland (he’s a 1975 graduate). He’s also a former head coach at both Ohio University and LaSalle.

–Among other teams playing in Buffalo, the Irish know Virginia Tech (an ACC member), Villanova (the Wildcats handed the Irish their first loss Dec. 10 in a game played in Newark, New Jersey) and Wisconsin (Notre Dame defeated the Badgers in an NCAA regional semifinal game a year ago–and the Wisconsin athletics director is Barry Alvarez, formerly a Notre Dame football defensive coordinator under Lou Holtz).

–Handling the color commentary Thursday for CBS will be former standout Duke player Jim Spanarkel, who knows Brey from the Irish head coach’s days as an assistant coach in Durham.

Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings on