Few have gotten the best of Mike Krzyzewski during his 34-year run at Duke, so Mike Brey has not forgotten how his stubbornness some 20 years ago ended up paying dividends for both coaches.
One of their great arguments, as Brey described it, took place in a parking garage in Ypsilanti, Mich., site of the late ABCD Camp. There, the rising Blue Devils assistant bickered with Krzyzewski and fellow assistant Tommy Amaker over whether to extend an offer to an undersized point guard out of Severna Park, Md., by the name of Steve Wojciechowski.
Brey tried convincing his colleagues to not overthink themselves. A product of powerhouse DeMatha (Md.) High, Brey had tracked Wojciechowski from an early age, witnessing the youngster at DeMatha camps before recruiting him hard out of nearby Cardinal Gibbons.
"He was a real down-to-earth guy, so he was an easy guy to talk to throughout the recruiting process," Wojciechowski said of Brey. "We had similar backgrounds, in terms of Maryland Catholic high schools. Just a real easy guy to be around and somebody who did a great job selling the Duke program."
Brey ended up convincing Krzyzewski to take the chance on Wojciechowski, reminding his boss to stroke the youngster's coaching bug by telling Wojciechowski of what a move to Duke could mean for his eventual career.
Kind of like it ended up meaning for Brey himself.
As Notre Dame welcomes No. 7 Duke to the Joyce Center on Saturday to break ground on its inaugural ACC campaign, its leader finds himself back among familiar company, the Maryland-bred Brey squaring off against old teacher Coach K and his band of burgeoning understudies.
Brey was one of them for eight years, getting his college feet wet along the road to six Final Fours and two national titles. The son of Maryland educators, Brey was the point man in many important recruiting battles, parlaying his prep playing and coaching experience under the legendary Morgan Wootten into a gig as a 28-year-old working for the man who has gone on to become the winningest coach in NCAA history.
"When you think about my background, to have parents who were educators and teachers, seeing that every day, seeing them interact with their students or their teams was huge," Brey said. "Morgan Wootten as a high school coach and as my first mentor, and then Mike Krzyzewski, I just really feel, man, I got the ultimate training in this profession."
The Duke opportunity had actually presented itself in a sort of backward way.
Brey had always envisioned himself as a career high school coach. His dad was an athletic director at Richard Montgomery High. His mother was the women's swimming coach at George Washington University, his alma mater. But Brey's degree in physical education prevented him from getting a teaching job, which in turn prevented him from running his own program.
Still, working under Wootten allowed Brey access to bigger profiles, with most of the ACC heavyweights making it to DeMatha sooner or later to check in on all of the prospects it had been churning out. (The school unofficially won five national titles during Wootten's 46-year tenure.)
"Mike was a tremendous connector. I think that's something that Coach K identified," said Atlanta Hawks general manager Danny Ferry, who played for Brey at DeMatha before following him to Duke two years later. "Smart and hard-working. And coming from DeMatha's program is not a normal high school program, along with being in that area, which is a really important place to recruit. I think [those] probably were all factors and why Mike ended up at Duke. If you get to know Mike, you understand he's got some unique abilities to connect and communicate."
William & Mary's hiring of Duke assistant Chuck Swenson as its head coach created the opening for Brey in Durham. Wootten, who had no shortage of college suitors for himself over the years, told Krzyzewski that Brey would be his first hire if he ever made the leap from high school.
"Bob Bender now is an assistant with the Milwaukee Bucks, but Bob moved into the top assistant role when Chuck Swenson left, and I think he was really comfortable with me coming in, because he had to teach me, he had to groom me," Brey said. "I wasn't coming in with all these new ideas; there was going to be a clear pecking order. And I think that was very helpful, and also that Mike knew I'd be with him awhile."
Among the players Brey coached was Wojciechowski, who followed his decorated playing career at Duke by fulfilling his wishes as a coach these past 15 years for the Blue Devils.
Now in his sixth season as Duke's associate coach, Wojciechowski still hears it from Brey whenever they connect, the Irish coach reminding him that he still owes his old recruiter for convincing Krzyzewski to take a chance on him two decades ago.
"He's so ready to be a head coach, I wouldn't be shocked if somebody picks him off this year," Brey said of Wojciechowski. "He's really good, very ready, has an unbelievable amount of responsibility with the Duke program now and has had great experiences. He'll be very ready to take a head job, and he's due."
And if that just happens to sound like the story of another former Wootten camper finding his calling at a young age, well, history certainly has a way of repeating itself.
Especially as it relates to Wootten and Krzyzewski.
"You could see then how good he was with kids. He was awesome," Wootten said of Brey. "And I knew then if he wanted to be a coach, he could be special. And we kicked it around even then. I said at camp, 'What do you want to do one day?' And he goes, 'One day I think I'd like to take a crack at what you're doing, Coach.' And he has done it, and he's done it with style, no question about it. Done it in a tremendous way.
"When he was a senior at GW, I said, 'Mike, hurry up and graduate. I'm losing a coach and I need you.' So he was hired before he graduated."