This article is sponsored by Delta Air Lines.
Mike Brey, Head Coach at Notre Dame, chatted with us as part of our “Guiding Greatness” series of one-on-one interviews with college basketball coaches, presented by Delta. In part two of the interview, he delves into the impact he has on players’ lives.
Brey highlights the peculiar case of Pat Connaughton, the rare athlete who excelled in two collegiate sports: basketball and baseball. Brey felt a connection with the player, helping him achieve his athletic goals.
“Can you connect with young people, can you give them confidence to chase dreams, to really go for it?” Brey asked of himself.
The Baltimore Orioles drafted Connaughton in the fourth round of the 2014 MLB Draft. Scouts said he only slipped that far because he wanted to finish his degree rather than leave school early. Connaughton returned for his senior year at Notre Dame, playing basketball and completing his studies.
“I thought he was so mature in how he did it,” said Brey. “He had a great individual season, and we had a great team season, winning a championship. He put himself in a position then to be an NBA draft pick.”
Brey expected Connaughton to come to his office, thank him for the four years and let his coach know he would be reporting to the Orioles. Connaughton wasn’t expected to be picked in the NBA Draft.
“But he said ‘Coach, I want to chase this basketball thing. What do I need to do? I want to make a run at the NBA,’” according to Brey.
The coach was surprised. But Brey worked with Connaughton, telling him what he thought the player should do to get drafted.
“Like he attacked his career, he methodically, over two – three months, performed at a high level and was a second-round pick and has a two-year guaranteed contract,” said Brey.
The Portland Trail Blazers drafted Connaughton with the 41st pick overall. The Fighting Irish athlete turned Trail Blazer still believes MLB could be in his future. And that’s what he wanted: to leave the door open.
“There’s the impact you have on their lives,” said Brey. “I want my guys to have a positive experience. I want them, when they look back, [to see] this was positive and uplifting for them, the four years I had them.”
As a collegiate coach, Brey deals with kids as they transition to adulthood. It’s an extremely important time in their lives, and it’s something the Notre Dame Coach takes very seriously.
“Parents will give their sons to me when they’re 18, and they’re basically saying ‘here he is, a boy, make a man out of him,’” said Brey.