Notre Dame ready for new address

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Mike Brey arrived in New York this past March and found himself afraid of a jinx. There Notre Dame was, ready to make one last run at a Big East tournament title, and yet the first night of the last conference rendezvous as everyone knew it was marked by the Fighting Irish's announcement that they would leave the league early for ACC play the next season.

"I was actually thinking to myself one night, 'Our timing is unbelievable: Here we are getting ready for the Big East tournament, and we announce this,' " Brey told ESPN.com. "But the expansion thing had been so dramatic for two years, nothing surprised me. I mean, I was kind of on the edge."

On the edge from describing his program's uncertain future to recruits, to his own players and even to himself.

Shortly after Brey signed a 10-year extension two summers ago, reports had surfaced about a possible Big 12 partnership -- a potential fate that the Maryland-bred coach described as "his worst nightmare."

But conference realignment had long since been going sideways. And Brey remembered taking a facilities tour some two years ago with athletic director Jack Swarbick and women's basketball coach Muffet McGraw.

"We all kind of said, 'If we can get in the ACC, we've got to get there,' " Brey said. "We all said, 'That's the one, let's see if we can pull it off.' And we did, so we're fortunate."

The ACC logos have been plastered across the Purcell Pavilion hardwood and scoreboard. Banners of ACC teams line each of the building's corridors -- in alphabetical order, even, where "Louisville" can replace "Maryland" next season. Notre Dame's sweetheart of a deal with its new home base will rear its biggest head come Jan. 4, when ACC play commences against old Brey mentor Mike Krzyzewski and Duke.

The move comes a year too early and yet not a year too soon, especially with a senior backcourt that has the Irish thinking they can become an immediate player in the league.

A senior backcourt that, like its coach, also hails from Maryand.

"Having all those East Coast games and teams that I've seen growing up on the East Coast is going to be fun," said Jerian Grant, a Bowie native. "Just being able to go back home, and on that side, the family gets to come to a lot of games. That's ACC country over there."

For a while it looked like the Irish's seniors might not get that chance, with Brey even saying during a February teleconference that Notre Dame would be playing in the Big East for one more season.

Then came the small matter of the Catholic 7 schools breaking off early from the Big East, throwing everything into flux.

One-year rentals with the new Big East (Catholic 7) or the old one (American Athletic Conference) looked like viable options, especially given fall sports teams and their imminent scheduling needs.

"We had said another year, and then as soon as the Catholic 7 made that move, we had to move quickly," Brey said. "That's where our AD was great, because that was like coaching in triple overtime. And for us to land on our feet and the ACC to work with us, they knew we were coming but now we said, 'Guess what, we want to come a year early.'

"Karl Hicks, I still tease him to this day -- he's the associate commissioner, the basketball guy — I said man, he had to redo the schedule, and they worked with us. But it's great, they wanted us in."

They were not alone. Point guard and Columbia native Eric Atkins grew up attending Maryland games and the Terrapins' Midnight Madness events, and he was looking forward to the opportunity to possibly conclude his college career with trips back to College Park and other campuses he had become familiar with when younger.

"I was definitely rooting for us to get to the ACC," Atkins said. "I'm just really excited to go home and play Maryland, Duke and North Carolina and all those schools. I'm just really excited for the fact we can create new rivalries, get to play new teams. It's a totally different feel."

There are sore spots, for sure, most notably when (at least) the next two Marches come and pass without the familiar trip to Madison Square Garden and all of the subway alumni that fill it.

But with Pitt, Syracuse and eventually Louisville coming aboard -- not to mention reunions with old Big East foes Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech -- there is a certain air of familiarity, too.

At conference media day last week, commissioner John Swofford described the upcoming competition in the ACC as "brutal."

"Look how well we played Louisville in the past five years -- part of that is we know Louisville's offense as well as they do," Swarbrick told ESPN.com, describing a series that has gone to overtime in six of its past nine games. "You're really familiar with the teams in your conference. Everybody is new to us, as a challenge, is enormous. We have a really, really good women's soccer team that just lost three straight in the conference. Part of it is just the challenge of new venues and new systems and working your way through that."

Brey opens his 14th season with the Irish on Nov. 8 against Miami (Ohio). He leaves behind a Big East that named him its coach of the year on three separate occasions. But for a man who spent much of his playing days at DeMatha High and George Washington, and who grew up on Coach K's staff before taking over Delaware, there is some symmetry to returning to many of the same on-campus venues he toured in his younger days.

"I never would've thought I'd be coaching in the ACC at Notre Dame," Brey said. "But maybe it's fate, that I come full circle back to a league that I grew up an ACC basketball fan, a Maryland fan, when I was growing up. And obviously my years at Duke. I'm kind of excited about this challenge, going back and going back into some places that I'm familiar with."