July 23, 2015
NOTE: The Fighting Alumni, a team of former Notre Dame men’s basketball players, begin defense of their title at The Basketball Tournament, a $1 million, winner-take-all event at 8 p.m. ET Thursday live on ESPNU from McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago. The following blog was written by Zach Hillesland (’09), hours before Thursday’s tournament opener.
Your ability to leave the party at the right moment becomes just as important as being invited in the first place.
Coach Mike Brey, in the the middle of the sidewalk, in the middle of a story, spotted an empty cab out of the corner of his eye, and like a leopard hunting at night, zoned in on his cabbie and let out the best whistle I’ve ever heard (leopards whistle, yeah?). I’m not even sure that Mike stopped telling his story while he whistled. Maybe it was through his nose, I don’t know. The cabbie was clearly as impressed as we were as he whipped a fat, traffic-defying U-turn, dying to get this International Man of Mystery in his vehicle. And in a flash, story unfinished, night still young, Coach was gone. Vanished right before our eyes.
Performing the “Irish Exit” usually means to leave an event, a party, or another social gathering without telling anyone and without being detected. Twenty minutes goes by before they realize that you’re gone. You’re the Great Tipsy Ninja, gone without a trace, safely back home, passed out on your bed instead of the bar top, your companions none the wiser.
But Coach has the rare ability to Irish Exit with you knowing about it. And it has an entirely different effect. Yes, you saw him leave. But it doesn’t feel like he’s actually gone. Did he just put his body in a cab? Because his presence is still present. It’s at that moment that you realize that you still have the “Coach Brey Moral Compass” installed, that it’s still part of your thought process, and you wonder how he did it, but it’s a second too late to ask.
The party in question here is the second annual reunion of the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni, a collection of former Notre Dame basketball players from the last decade, all Coach Brey products. It’s a group reunited to defend their Basketball Tournament championship, a group of fifteen individuals that do not know how to use email.
One of the great things about having a physical job like being a basketball player means that you don’t technically have to use the internet if you don’t want to. Getting this group of guys to respond to an email was like trying to get a Nascar fan to wear sleeves (read: impossible). That is, unless, you mention food or free shoes. Trying to schedule a practice a month in advance? Zero hits. What’s everyone’s shoe size for some Under Armour SWAG? Instantaneous response.
With shoe sizes and entrees decided, the Fighting Alumni descended upon Chicago, our home away from home, back once again, as Coach says, to “get the energy from the city.” And it’s safe to say that the squad is significantly spruced up from last year. Additions of Tim Abromaitis, Carleton Scott, Eric Atkins, Ben Hansbrough, and Luke Harangody have replaced some of our rustier parts, a necessary upgrade as the tournament field has not only expanded in size but in skill as well.
I could have watched this group practice all night. There’s something amazing about seeing ND ’14 Eric Atkins feed ND ’06 Torin Francis in the post, two full four-year cycles separating them. There’s also something special about watching Tory Jackson and Luke Harangody have the same on-court argument they’ve had a hundred times before. No, YOU were supposed to do THIS. I almost wish they’d both just go to the tattoo parlor and get matching “Agree to Disagree” ink on their forearms, but then I realize that wouldn’t be nearly as fun as their lover’s quarrels. Time is a flat circle and basketball is a full one, and may the basketball gods bless these men with triple doubles.
Dinner with the crew provided the stage for Coach Brey to hold court like only Coach Brey can do. I’ve never met such a skilled raconteur, able to bounce from detail to compliment to insult as swiftly as he can. I almost feel bad for the people that have to go to the game tonight, seeing as they’ll miss Mike’s colorful, colorful commentary for ESPNU.
With the game just a few hours away, it’s amazing to think that we could be at the beginning of another run. Here’s to hoping that the only Irish Exit we deal with is Coach Brey tonight after the game. And hopefully tomorrow. And most certainly the next day.
— Zach Hillesland is the editor-in-chief for goodsportchicago.com and a 2009 Notre Dame graduate