PHILADELPHIA — In the end at Notre Dame, it always comes back to football. That’s even true for a basketball coach preparing for his second straight Elite Eight appearance.
On Saturday, Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was asked why he thinks the Irish’s basketball program is overlooked and whether a Final Four berth is needed to get national recognition.
“Well, we have a quarterback controversy going on right now in South Bend,” Brey said sarcastically. “My gosh, people may be tuning in a little bit tomorrow night.”
Malik Zaire is battling DeShone Kizer for Notre Dame’s starting quarterback position this spring. Recently, Zaire expressed frustration that he’s competing for the starter’s job for a third straight spring after he missed most of the 2015 season with a broken ankle.
“You just really wonder what it’s going to take to finally convince people enough that I’m able to do the job,” Zaire said, according to The Associated Press. “I don’t make the decision. I’m going to keep balling and do what I need to do.”
Even though football consumes the Notre Dame fan base, Brey turned the basketball team into a legitimate national program. Notre Dame has made the NCAA Tournament in 11 of Brey’s 16 seasons, including back-to-back Elite Eight appearances for the first time in 35 years.
“The last two years I think has given us great credibility,” Brey said. “I think in the basketball world, I firmly believe this in the basketball community, I don’t think there’s a program more respected than our program. No program — how we’ve done it, how we’ve gotten guys better, how we’ve built it, our style of play, and I’m really proud of that.”
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick certainly understands Brey’s value.
“Sure, I’ve worried about losing him,” Swarbrick said. “He is the identity of our program and that’s hard to go somewhere and replicate. He’s had opportunities, certainly. Five out of six (wins) against Duke now, that’s pretty amazing.”
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