Brey returns as Blue Hens host 9th-ranked Irish Saturday night

Mike Brey, right, returns to coach a game at Delaware tonight for the first time since he left the Blue Hens for Notre Dame in 2000. The Irish-Hens game is a favor to second-year UD coach Martin Ingelsby, left, the point guard on Brey’s first Notre Dame team who later was an assistant coach on Brey’s staff for 13 seasons. (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics)

NEWARK — Mike Brey has coached a ton of basketball games in countless arenas since the last time he coached a game in Newark.

But that doesn’t mean he’s forgotten the names and the faces of the people he had so many big moments with in the Carpenter Center.

“I remember the celebrations and the crowd,” Brey said on Thursday. “Mike Pegues and Tyrone Perry and all those guys cutting the nets down. … I have really, really great memories there.”

No doubt, many more of those memories will come rushing back to Brey tonight when he coaches a game at the Carpenter Center for the first time since 2000.

Only this time, Brey will be sitting on the visitor’s bench when he brings his ninth-ranked Notre Dame squad (7-2) to Newark for a 7 p.m. contest against his former team, Delaware (4-5).

The long-anticipated event has been declared a sellout in the 5,000-seat arena. It’s being televised on the CBS Sports Network.

The Fighting Irish will be the highest-ranked team to play in the building and just the fourth Top-10 squad to face the Blue Hens in Newark. The last time Delaware hosted a team of Notre Dame’s current stature was in 2003 when No. 10 St. Joseph’s came to town.

But Brey’s return — as well as his long-standing friendship with second-year Hens’ coach Martin Ingelsby — is what makes this game a little different.

The contest, of course, is a favor to Ingelsby, the point guard on Brey’s first Notre Dame team who later was an assistant coach on Brey’s staff for 13 seasons.

But trying to hand the other man a loss will be strange for both coaches.

“To play against Martin is kind of a weird feeling,” said the 58-year-old Brey, now in his 17th season with the Irish. “You almost don’t want to compete against your former guys. But business is business. We’ll prepare and be ready.”

Ingelsby and Brey collaborated together for so long that each coach has a pretty good idea how the other one thinks. The 39-year-old Ingelsby often finds himself wondering, what would Brey do in this situation?

“I always say, ‘What would his tone be?’” said Ingelsby. “I’ll shoot him a text, I’ll give him a call, like ‘Hey, what do you think? Our guys are doing this. How can I motivate them a little better?’

“A lot of the stuff that we run is obviously what they run. … We’re similar to them in a lot of ways. That’s what we’re trying to be here — trying to build that system and create that foundation here to springboard off of moving forward.

“Our guys are going to recognize a lot of the calls and what they’re running. Now we’ve got to do a good job of trying to take it away and limit them on the offensive end. Obviously it will be a great challenge because they can put points on the board in a hurry.”

The other thing to remember is that, while there will be a sellout crowd, a large percentage of it will be local Notre Dame fans. That includes Delaware fans who started following the Fighting Irish when Brey was hired.

“I’ve had people reach out — some ND fans,” Ingelsby said with a smile. “I’m like, ‘Who are you going to root for? Do I want to help you with tickets, do I not want to help you with tickets?’”

Brey was Delaware’s coach from 1995-2000, going 99-52 in those six seasons and leading the Hens to America East titles in both 1998 and ‘99. He was inducted into UD’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.

With Notre Dame coming into town on Friday, Brey will have to walk the line between catching up with old friends and players while also preparing the Irish to win a game.

“Man, I was fortunate, I had really good players,” Brey said about his days at Delaware. “I mean, if I don’t have good players, I don’t get this (Notre Dame) job. A bunch of those guys will be around. Those are the guys that will be neat to see.”

When it’s all said and done, the atmosphere and Brey being back in the Carpenter Center may end up being more memorable than the game itself.

It’s still early in the rebuilding process for Ingelsby, whose team has lost three games in a row. The Hens sometimes have three freshmen on the court at the same time — not to mention having played five guards at once, too.

Delaware’s players, though, say they’re going to do everything in their power to pull off what would be a monumental upset.

“We’re not looking to (just) compete, we’re hoping to win,” said sophomore guard Ryan Daly. “We’re going to come out here like it’s any other game. We’re not going to be in awe that Notre Dame’s here.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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