A few weekends ago, I had the chance to coach a group of former Division I and professional basketball players in the first annual TBT Basketball Tournament held at Philadelphia University. For someone with dreams of one day running their own NBA franchise, this platform provided me and others with the rare opportunity to recruit who ever we wanted to play in this 32-team, single elimination open tournament.
Did I mention that the winner takes home half a million dollars? The combination of these elements were certainly enough to attract over 150 teams from all over the United States to submit their roster in hopes of being selected.
Perhaps no game better represented the uniqueness of the event than the second round matchup between Team Barstool and PUBB Champions. Team Barstool, was composed of NBA talent Josh Boone, Andre Barrett, Matt Walsh and Dahntay Jones. PUBB Champions (Princeton University Alum), on the other hand, was made up of former Ivy League teammates that had back-doored their competition to death by running the vaunted Princeton Offense.
In this particular game, Princeton made Barstool’s leading scorer Dahntay Jones (22 PPG) earn his 10 points the hard way (only 1 made FG), and as a result Princeton gave themselves a chance to win it at the end. Unfortunately for the Ivy Leaguers, they missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer and the tournament favorite, Team Barstool, moved on to the next round.
But that’s what made this event so great. Where else has a matchup of these polar opposites ever been possible?
Putting Together “Rep Your City”
My good friend and former AAU teammate Tony Gallo reached out to me about TBT. Tony started at point guard for Coppin State where he averaged over 17 points per game before graduating in 2012. He contacted me because he thought that having the opportunity to put together a group of pro ball players aligned with my career goal of working in the NBA. Tony was right.
Could I have put myself on the roster? Sure. But after finishing my collegiate career last year at the Division III level, I figured I might as well get a head start on my post-playing career in basketball.
I bought in right away and started to use connections I’ve developed over the years in the basketball world and here at Dime to start recruiting. I reached out to former beloved Celtic Brian Scalabrine, but his coaching contract with Golden State wouldn’t allow him to participate. I reached out to a local New England guy with close ties to Ricky Ledo (Dallas Mavericks) and Erik Murphy (Utah Jazz), but their contracts wouldn’t allow them to participate either. I also went after Alex Oriakhi (Phoenix Suns), who I played in a few high school all-star games with. Unfortunately, he was unable to play as well. My former college teammate got in touch with James Ennis (Miami Heat), who he played in Junior College with. But, once again, no dice.
At this point I realized that I may run into the same road block with most NBA Players currently under contract, so I decided to change my approach.
Back in March, I wrote a feature on NBA hopeful Aquille Carr that highlighted his road less traveled to the league, including his stops in China and the NBA D-League. I stayed in touch with his new agent Daniel Hazan of Hazan Sports Management and proposed the idea of Aquille playing on our squad. I figured that after being out of the limelight since January, this would be the perfect opportunity for people to see the 5-6 dynamo once again play on the big stage. Once Aquille hopped on board, it was easier for me to attract big name players.
But before I added any nationally known names, I shored up our teams depth at the point guard position, adding former teammate and childhood friend Akeem Williams. Williams has flown under the radar but scored 2000-plus points at UMASS—Lowell and led the American East in scoring this past season with 16 points a game. Just days before TBT, the Boston Celtics brought in the local product to participate in their pre-draft workout with projected first rounders Adreian Payne and Clint Capela at their practice facility in Waltham.
After getting set at the guard position, I contacted another childhood friend, Nick Friedman, who is a student-manager at the University of Miami. Nick put me in contact with 6-6 wing Garrius Adams, who finished up his career with the Hurricanes this past season. I told GA that we needed some bigs for our squad and he put me in contact with the former 6-11 Miami duo of Kenny Kadji and Julian Gamble. Kadji finished up his season playing for the Rio Grande Vipers of the D-League this past season after a stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers while Gamble starred for Saint Vallier of France where he averaged 16 points and 9 rebounds this past season.
At this point, I had a couple of spots to fill out the roster. Via social media, I went after 6-5 Marcus Lewis of Eastern Kentucky. Marcus won the 2014 ESPN/State Farm College Slam Dunk Contest this past April after completing a series of silly dunks. I knew that pairing him up with Aquille would make for one of the most exciting backcourts in the tournament.
Lastly, I identified 7-0 Center Jordan Henriquez who played for the Houston Rockets earlier this season before teaming up with Kenny in the D-League. After adding him last minute, all of a sudden, we had the biggest frontcourt in the entire event.
It was definitely a lot of work making sure everyone got down to Philly, but it was well worth it. The plan was to arrive on Wednesday for two days of practice before our first game against Horsemen — a team from Far Rockaway Queens who had won tournament championships all over NYC. On paper, we seemed to have the advantage, but Horseman had a 7-1 center and the luxury of having played together before. We may have had more talent but needed a few days to get a feel for each other, so we planned for two days of practice before Friday’s game. However, with a nine-man roster of guys coming in from Miami, Chicago, California and Houston and Boston, it would be tough to get everyone there early.
After driving six hours from Boston and picking up the guys who had just landed, we headed to a gym near our hotel to get some run in. With only five guys to start, there was obviously only so much that we could do and after showing up and finding out the gym didn’t have the basketballs they said they would provide us with, things were off to a rocky start.
Luckily, we at least had one decent basketball so we did some 2-on-2 “horns” breakdown drills that would simulate our offense on one side of the floor. A Horns set is what we wanted to run for when we found ourselves in the half-court because most guys who’ve played at a high level are familiar with it. This gave us the ability to let our guards create off high ball screens while also pulling the opponents bigs away from the basket. It would also allow high-low opportunities and side ball screen action. After getting used to each others tendencies and personalities as much as possible in the span of 48 hours, we would play our first game at 4 p.m. on Friday.
In Game 1, Horsemen came out aggressive and used their underdog mentality to jump out to a 7-3 lead, but buckets from Aquille Carr and Julian Gamble would narrow the gap just under five minutes in. This momentum would spark a 15-3 run that would allow us to stretch our lead. In the midst of this run, came nine points from Kenny Kadji and a pair of poster dunks. Kenny might have had the dunk of the tournament after flushing one home over Horsemen’s 7-1 center, but the big fella was outdone by two of his own teammates, Aquille Carr and Marcus Lewis, who connected for an and-1 alley-oop that would show up on ESPN later that night as the #1 play on SportsCenter. On this play, “The Crimestopper” threw a half court lob to the College Slam Dunk Champion from Eastern Kentucky who baptized a poor defender.
At the half, we owned a 22-point lead that would give us plenty of cushion for the rest of the game. We got a little sloppy down the stretch but there was no doubt that after Marcus’ SportsCenter highlight, it sort of deflated our opponent.
For a team that hadn’t played together before, we did a great job of sharing the ball with 17 assists on 31 field goals. This selfless style of play would also allow for all five of our starters to reach double figures. Aquille Carr played a complete game showing those in attendance that he has made a smooth transition to becoming a true point guard; he finished with 20 points and 6 assists. Former Cleveland Cavalier Kenny Kadji finished the game with 19 points and 8 rebounds, shooting 8-for-11 from the field. Julian Gamble also played a solid game with 13 points and 7 rebounds while wings Marcus Lewis and Garrius Adams both finished with 10 points a piece.
The next day at 12:30 we would face a much tougher opponent in DMV’s Finest. Their squad was composed of some of the top talent from the DMV area including former Georgetown duo Chris Wright and Austin Freeman. In all honesty, this should have been a final-four matchup. I felt whoever made it out of our pod between our two squads and the tournament favorite, Team Barstool, would win the Championship. Wright most recently played for the Dallas Mavericks last season, becoming the first NBA player to play with multiple sclerosis.
In the previous game, DMV had only shot 5-of-18 from three in their previous matchup against Team Bang and if they continued with their shooting woes, we felt that we had the advantage with our rim protection. After jumping out to an early 21-9 lead that included a fire alarm going off (can’t make this stuff up), we felt confident that we could extend the lead. To put this all in perspective, we were going up against pros. In addition to Wright & Freeman, DMV had Terrell Stoglin, formerly of the University of Maryland, and Jerai Grant formerly of Clemson; these guys would make us work for every basket.
The experience DMV’s Finest received after playing together became evident as they continued to chip into our first-half lead. It seemed as if they capitalized on every one of our missed shots, getting out in transition on multiple occasions for uncontested three pointers from Freeman and Wright. Just as quick as we went up by 12, Chris Wright and Co. brought their lead up to 13 going into the half and we would have our work cut out for us if we wanted to cut into their lead.
Though they did shoot the lights out of the gym, we still had the advantage on the block and called former University of Miami big man Julian Gamble’s number on almost every possession (which in hindsight should have been even more). Gamble was in all-out beast mode, finishing the game with 20 and 10 on 10-of-13 shooting. It’s no wonder he just had a workout with the Sacramento Kings — the kid is an NBA-caliber talent, relentless on the boards and with a natural feel for the game that allowed him to spin off leaning defenders for baseline finishes throughout the weekend. He is also a great passer at his position and has a work ethic that is second to none; he never takes a play off.
Unfortunately for us, the former Georgetown duo showed no signs of slowing down in the second half, combining to go 10-of-15 from beyond the arc against our entire squad’s 8-for-19 three-point shooting. With five minutes left in regulation, we cut into DMV’s lead, bringing it to six and then getting fouled on a three-point attempt. With a chance to cut it to three with plenty of basketball left to play, we went just 1 of 3 from the line. Still, on the next possession, a Julian Gamble bucket brought it to 4 with just over four minutes left. Unfortunately for us, this is where possessing the chemistry that comes from playing together as a unit, took over. DMV would finish the game on a 12-3 run that would end our shot at $500,000. Kenny Kadji would finish with 18 points and 12 rebounds.
While I would have loved to have played anybody else in the second round and live another day, the experience to coach this group of guys and compete against Chris Wright and Austin Freeman in an extremely competitive environment is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to work with, either.
Kenny and Jordan have already proven they’re worthy of a shot in the NBA, and — as I said earlier — Julian needs to be in that conversation as well. He is very skilled and a bull under the rim.
Aquille Carr is a great kid who I also believe deserves a shot in the league. After a rocky start to his pro career, the kid is a humble individual who is trying to use this game to provide the best life possible for his daughter. He proved he can create for others and run a team at the point guard position at TBT. It also didn’t hurt that he had 17 points, 3 assists and 3 steals versus a former NBA point guard. A team looking for a Nate Robinson-esque spark off of their bench should at least offer Carr a spot on their Summer League roster. His heart dwarfs his stature.
The rest of the guys should all go on to have great careers at the pro level and I look forward to working with some of them again as we hopefully take another shot at the 500k next summer.
In regards to how the event was run in its first year — everything was top notch. Rumor has it that TBT is looking to eventually have four regions with its winners creating a final four that will make for an even larger March Madness-type atmosphere. Who knows, maybe they will even up the ante with next year’s potential winnings. One thing is for certain, there is never been an event of this nature and TBT has started to create their niche in the basketball world. Expect next year to be even bigger and better.
As for now, you can catch former NBA vets Dahntay Jones, Josh Boone and Team Barstool take on Notre Dame Alum Ty Nash and Torin Francis with 500k on the line in the TBT Championship Game this Saturday at Boston University’s Case Gymnasium at 7 p.m. For those unable to make it to Beantown, the game will be live streamed on ESPN 3. Tickets can be purchased at Ticketmaster.com for $20.
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