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Digger’s Day – January 19th

Jan 2, 2014, 11:47 PM EDT

Mike Franz, the official 2013-14 men’s basketball beat writer for the In The Paint blog, is currently a sophomore at Holy Cross College. Over the course of the year Mike will bring you insight from within the student section, interviews with Fighting Irish players and stories from inside the team circle. You can follow Mike (and the rest of the Notre Dame student beat writing staff) on twitter at @JrNDBloggers.

A month ago I had the true honor of talking to Notre Dame legend Digger Phelps. During the hour he talked to me (and the rest of the @JrNDBloggers), he told me about numerous things, including his close connection with Father Hesburgh and how he got started coaching at Notre Dame. Along with this he also talked about how he reacted when he found out about his big night coming up on January 19th, 2014.

In case you were not aware, on January 19th, this former Notre Dame head basketball coach is going to be inducted into the Notre Dame Ring of Honor at Purcell Pavilion.

During his 20 years of coaching the Irish, Phelps went an impressive 393-197. During this span Digger took the Irish to 14 NCAA Championships and he was at the helm during the program’s only Final Four appearance.

Phelps said he found out the he was getting inducted into the Ring of Honor from current head coach Mike Brey and Phelps’ fiance over dinner. “There’s something I want to talk to you about,” Phelps told Brey. “Wednesday night, December 11th, you’re playing North Dakota State here,” he stated. “Last year I did Mother Ginger from the Nutcracker during halftime at the women’s game vs Baylor and we want to do it during the North Dakota State game.”

Coach Brey stopped him and said, “I gotta talk to you first. We want to put you into the Ring of Honor.” In reaction, Phelps said three words that summed up how he felt when Brey uttered those words: “It hit me.”

After Brey told him, they were trying to figure out when to induct him. Brey said it was Phelps’ decision. “Well January 19th is the 40th anniversary of the UCLA game [when Notre Dame beat the Bruins and snapped their 88-game win streak],” Phelps pondered. “I want the guys back.”

It took Digger a second to think about what it meant to be in the Ring of Honor. “It’s a reflection of everything that happened back then; from Father Hesburgh who hired me with Father Joyce to all the guys who played for me and to the student body back then.”

“It will be emotional, but I want to get through it and share with anybody and everybody who was a part of [his career], even the janitors who got the court cleaned and ready before practices.”

January 19th will be a memorable day for both Coach Phelps and the entire Notre Dame community. Digger Phelps is the “Knute Rockne” of Notre Dame basketball. He took the  basketball program and not only put it on the map, but helped make it a force to be reckoned with in the college basketball world.

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