March 10, 2017
By John Heisler
All-American Notre Dame basketball guard Gary Brokaw never actually played in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
He played against teams from Duke and North Carolina during his two varsity seasons with the Irish in 1972-73 and 1973-74–including a victory over the Tar Heels in the 1973 National Invitation Tournament (NIT) semifinals and a home win over the Blue Devils in 1974.
That was about four decades before Notre Dame became an ACC member in 2013-14.
But, as a New Brunswick, New Jersey, product, Brokaw proved a perfect fit for the ACC Legends group honored Friday night in Brooklyn. He and his classmates were feted at a private event at the Barclays Center just prior to the ACC Tournament semifinal doubleheader and then the full class was introduced on the court at halftime of the Duke-North Carolina semifinal.
“Playing at the University, first of all it was such a long time ago that freshmen were not eligible. So I watched my first season at Notre Dame as the varsity team won only six games (in 1972-73),” said Brokaw during the formal ceremonies.
“We had a very talented class that came in together as freshmen. Digger Phelps was a young coach–I think he was 28 at the time. And we just wanted to establish basketball at Notre Dame. Obviously the tradition in football already spoke for itself.”
Brokaw, a 6-4 backcourt standout, has special memories of the landmark Notre Dame win over top-ranked UCLA in 1974 in great part because it was the first time his parents came to South Bend to see him play.
“That was something I remembered for a long, long time because of that,” he said.
Brokaw earned third-team All-America honors in 1974 from United Press International and scored 1,001 points in 58 games over his two-year varsity career in South Bend. He shot 56 percent from the floor in his final season, in which he averaged 17.1 points per game.
Brokaw played a starring role in that win over No. 1 UCLA (which snapped the Bruins’ historic NCAA-record 88-game win streak), leading all scorers with 25 points and shooting 10 of 16 from the floor.
“It was all about the relationships you built with the players–the Adrian Dantleys, the John Shumates, the Dwight Clays,” he said.
Brokaw was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks as the No. 18 overall pick in the 1974 NBA Draft, and he went on to play professionally with Milwaukee, Cleveland and Buffalo. In Milwaukee he played alongside NBA greats Oscar Robertson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In addition to a head coaching stint at Iona, he returned to Notre Dame as Phelps’ assistant and also served as the NBA’s director of basketball operations (1991–95) and an assistant coach for the Charlotte Bobcats.
Brokaw attended the ACC Legends events along with his wife Renee and their daughter Natalie and her family.
Brokaw also recalled his son Brendan receiving a scholarship in the name of Antawn Jamison, the 2017 ACC Legend from North Carolina who attended the same Charlotte high school as Brendan did.