The Basketball Tournament: Day One

TBT

Update One (1:55pm): The Basketball Tournament is upon us. Live in the Gallagher Athletic Center at Philadelphia University, 32 teams of non-professionals have come together to compete for a $500,000 grand prize. Everyone who isn’t currently someone in the NBA seems to be here, from ghosts of NCAA tournaments past, to career pick up ball players, to the man/myth/legend Smush Parker of Kobe bothering fame.

I emailed into those running The Basketball Tournament (#TBTOpen) and acquired press passes for the first time in my life. I’ll be doing my best to live blog the day, but I have no idea how that will turn out. In the mean time, here is the bracket:

tbt_bracket-2

A bracket, almost just like any other. The only difference? That $500,000 light at the end of the tunnel.

The vibe of the room is something else. The other people I see that seem to be reporting on the Tournament are only a few years older than me, if that. The grandstands are filled about halfway, but everyone is at least partially engaged with the action on the court. Idle conversations about upcoming games and the past careers of college players are frequent, but come to an immediate halt when a hard foul is taken or a dunk is thrown down so that we in the crowd can properly appreciate it with a collective “OHHH!”

I make acquaintances with a group of writers from City of Basketball Love who graciously fill me in on the morning’s first two games. In game one, Take Your Game To Another Level (TYGTAL) handled Olivet Nazarene University comfortably, led by Tyler Laser who put up 30 points and 10 assists. TYGTAL should be a force in the tournament; they have depth and multiple players with professional experience.

Game two spelled disaster for the Cornell Sweet Sixteen team that reunited after their magical run in 2010. Their center Jeff Foote was a full three inches taller than the largest man their opponent, The Illinois Hoopville Warriors, had on their roster. It didn’t matter though. Foote was contained to only 16 points and Hoopville won by a final score of 84-70.

The third game of the day was owned by the Big Apple Ballers, my favorite to take the tournament. BAB is a collection of New York players, some with professional experience, including Smush Parker and Rashad McCants. They face off against one of the smallest teams in the tournament Eberlein Drive, and squash them accordingly, 113-71.

The Big Apple Ballers join me in the opposite stands to watch the final game of the morning, HITTAS v. Sean Bell AllStars, as they will be facing whichever team prevails. It’s the closest game of the tournament so far, the teams trading baskets and the lead at a fairly consistent rate. The crowd released their biggest “OHHH!” of the day when the SB AllStars nailed a three to tie the game at 56 with just over four minutes remaining. But HITTAS pulled away to win by seven after handling their crunch time free throws.

Two games are just now getting underway. The New York City Superstars are matching up against The Fighting Alumni, a group of former Notre Dame players. And on Court One, Team FOE is playing 4-on-5 against Sideline Cancer after one of their players was unable to dress for the game. They are applying a 2-2 zone with a surprising degree of success so far.  They are only down one at halftime. Sports are the best.

More updates to come.

Update Two (3:00pm): The games have stayed plenty interesting as The Basketball Tournament forges on through the first round. In Game 5, the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni played the best team basketball I have seen here so far. They were balanced in their scoring with four players hitting double figures, and quick to help on defense. Their opponents, the NYC Superstars, kept it close early, but the Irish put the game away and finished with a 12 point victory.

Team FOE v. Sideline Cancer

The most intriguing game of the day so far took place on the opposite court. Team FOE, pitted against Sideline Cancer, only fielded four players on the court after their fifth man was reported as unable to play. FOE committed to a 2-2 zone defense and gave Sideline Cancer plenty of open looks for jumpers, while crashing immediately if the ball went underneath. Sideline Cancer eventually responded with a box-and-one, but definitely looked a bit confused starting out defensively. You don’t practice defending four guys.

Astoundingly, Team FOE was down only one at the half, mostly thanks to an impressive stretch of three point shooting. Their standout, Josh Selby, put up 44 points, making him the leading scorer thus far in the tournament. It wasn’t enough though, and Sideline Cancer ended up winning 106-99. It was a bit of a bummer, but Sideline Cancer isn’t playing for the money – as their name would indicate, they will be donating their potential winnings to the Griffith Family Foundation, which is “dedicated to finding a cure for and aiding patients of pancreatic cancer.”

So kudos to them. Cancer is lame. I don’t want cancer in my starting lineup.

Two more games are currently underway. The undersized but brilliantly named Team Pup n’ Suds are doing their best to stay close to the second seeded Philly Patriots, who boast an impressive roster of ex- and soon-to-be-professionals. Philly Patriots made a few runs halfway through the first half and have held on to a 14-point-ish lead since.

The other contest currently in progress is between the Bomb Squad (consisting of current and former members of the Air Force team) and CitiTeam (led by former Loyola Marymount guard and three time WCC 1st teamer Anthony Ireland). CitiTeam has a 12 point lead at the half, but the game has felt much closer. I’m hoping the Bomb Squad can keep it interesting.

More updates to come.

Update Three (3:54pm): The Philly Patriots runaway with their first round match. They are going to be a ton of fun to watch as the weekend continues.

Unrelated note: The more time I spend here, the more I cannot believe that this is the first year this tournament has taken place. The whole thing is well organized and extremely well executed, from scheduling to branding (#TBTOpen) to the press access. Everyone is hyped to be here, and if anyone is in the slightest bit confused about what’s going on, it’s probably me. Further, this type tournament has existed in fictional pop-culture mind-space since the dawn of basketball.

The live bracket. #thebasketballtournament #tbtopen

A post shared by Tyler Lauletta (@thisbytyler) on

I can’t help but fantasize about a rec center that for years has served its community, giving troubled youths a place to spend time away from the streets, grow as men, and play basketball. Unfortunately, due to a lack of funding, the rec center is about to foreclose on its mortgage, unless it can somehow stumble upon $500,000 to pay off their ever-escalating debt. Those kids that played at the rec center thought all hope was lost, until Coach Samuel L. Jackson saw an article about this tournament, The Basketball Tournament, and its $500,000 grand prize.

In one moment, the rec center goes from something to mourn, to something to fight for. Something to play for.

The team practices and practices and learns to put the team before their stats. Their whole is greater than the sum of their parts. In the championship game, overmatched by a collection of AAU players who all seem to have professional careers on the horizon, our rec center heroes join together and give the community a ride they will never forget. Down three with only seconds left, Hot Hand Jimmy (as he is affectionately called) puts up the potential game-tying shot.

He rims out. The crowd falls silent. The rec center kids fall to their knees in pain and disbelief.

Post game, Team AllStars join together and announce that they were so moved by the performance of The Rec Center Heroes, that they will be donating their winnings to them. Our town’s rec center is saved. The next year, the teams join forces and run through the tournament. Hot Hand Jimmy ends up playing himself into a ten day contract with the Memphis Grizzlies.

Everything ends in smiles.

This is a real narrative that has existed for some time. It’s the plot of Dodgeball and countless other underdog stories. The Basketball Tournament is a vehicle for this scenario to actually play out in the real world. And although I do not know of any teams playing to save their rec center this year, who knows what could happen in 2015.

Also, The Bomb Squad just get their deficit to three and forced a turnover. 16.4 seconds left. The chance to stay alive for $500,000 on the line.

Sports are the best.

Thirty seconds later, The Bomb Squad is unable to complete their improbable comeback. It’s a bit of a bummer, but CitiTeam outplayed them the majority of the game. They also brought out the most raucous group of fans so far in the tournament, with a collection of 8-10 guys standing and clapping hard for every made basket, arguing with the refs on every uncalled foul.

We have made it halfway through the first round of The Basketball Tournament. The drama hasn’t even started.

More updates to come.

Update Four (5:02pm): The ninth game of the tournament has so far been the most competitive, based solely on feel. The battle between DMV’s Finest and Team Bang has been fast and high-flying. There have been alley-oops and hard fouls, contested calls and full-court presses. They seem to be bigger than most of the other teams I’ve seen so far, but I could just be inflating their size in my mind due to the grace that I’ve seen them play with so far. There was a stretch halfway through the first where the teams traded threes that looked like a professional exchange. DMV’s Finest leads Team Bang 42-36 at half.

Game ten just got started on the opposite court, and their crowd has let out the two loudest cheers of the tournament so far. I’m off to investigate.

Game ten is between the Horsemen (self-described as “a NYC championship team from bk and queens and are very dedicated to basketball, to winning, and always giving 100%.”) and Rep Your City (led by 5’6″ phenom of the D-League 87er’s, Aquille “The Crimestopper” Carr). You could basically take everything I said about the previous game and multiply it by 1.5 to describe this one. The teams are fighting harder on every possession than any other teams I have seen so far today.

Also, those screams from the crowd came almost exclusively at the hand of Carr. Just as I arrived at the court, he threw an alley-oop over his should like a hook shot from beyond the arc, and it was slammed home with authority through a defender. And-1 for the kicker. It was the third most impressive basketball play I have ever seen live, and I had only been watching for two minutes. In the time that I wrote this paragraph, Rep Your City has made at least two more plays comparable in both altitude and crowd reaction.

This is madness. Rep Your City is up 17 with five minutes left in the fist half. I might have a new favorite in this tournament.

Watching the game, I realize I am sitting next to members of the Illinois Hoopville Warriors. They are great company and give solid commentary on the action on the floor. They also discuss the prospect of hiring a stripper to distract opponents during free throws if they make a deep run. Again, I might have a new favorite team in this tournament.

Rep Your City is up 22 at the half. I my attention back to DMV’s Finest and the Horsemen, a six point game with six minutes to go.

This is like the first day of March Madness, except instead of having all of the games on your television, they are all in the same arena. Again, how was this tournament not already a thing?

DMV’s Finest refuse to let go of their lead, and win by a final score of 92-81. It is now slow for a moment at The Tournament, until The Crimestopper forces the crowd into another frenzy, even though his squad has refused to let their opponents within 15 points since the start of the second half.

Update Five (6:04pm): Rep Your City eases up on the gas a bit at the end of the game, but they still win by ten. Carr finished with 20 points on 54% shooting. I approach him after the game in order to capture what I believe to be the most important photo taken thus far at The Tournament.

The Crimestopper’s shoe game is on point.

As their game finishes, another favorite in the tournament, Team ROBY takes the court. ROBY is a collection of Villanova’s 2009 team that made a run to the Final Four. The team’s name stems from “Rock Out, Be You,” the clothing brand of small forward Dwayne Anderson. They are taking on Teasley’s AllStars, led by former WNBA AllStar Nikki Teasley, who to my knowledge is the only female in the tournament.

Team ROBY jumped out and didn’t really look back, settling into a comfortable lead and taking it all the way up to 23 points by halftime. ROBY will be amazing to watch as they face better and better teams. Right now though, it’s just cool to be sitting and watching Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher play basketball again.

Scottie Reynolds, keeled over in glory. #tbtopen #thebasketballtournament

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Update Six (7:37pm): Team ROBY coasts to the biggest win of the tournament, beating Teasley’s AllStars 127-88. Antonio Pena led the way with 51 points (IN A 36 MINUTE GAME) on 69% shooting. Scottie Reynolds went 8-12 from beyond the arc. In what I thought was a piece of lame news, Nikki Teasley played the fewest minutes of any player on her team. She was held to just 3 points.

On the far court, PeacePlayers International (another non-profit) handled the International AllStars with relative ease. I almost walked over to watch their game as Nova began to lengthen their lead further and further, but it was already a 10 point game not even halfway through the first, and I was having too much fun watching Scottie Reynolds play basketball. At one point, he banked in one of the ugliest three pointers I had seen all day to give ROBY a 33 point lead. I could not stop laughing. Scottie then proceeded to hit threes on his teams next two possessions. Again, sports are the best.

PeacePlayers International win by a final of 85-67. On the near court, top seeded Team Barstool is taking on Barstool Sports Philly. If you are familiar with the sports blogosphere at all, you are probably familiar with the Barstool Sports moniker. In the tournament, the top four seeds were given the option to choose their first round opponents. Team Barstool as the top seed, was granted first pick. They could’ve selected from a number of teams that appeared to be pushovers on paper. Instead, they chose to face off against their sibling rival of a blog.

It was a power move, that probably will not matter. The game is ten minutes in and while Barstool Sports Philly is by no means out of the game, Team Barstool have scored over half of its points on uncontested alley oops, two of which have bounced off the ground. The man responsible for ooping the majority of his team’s alleys is Dahntay Jones, an NBA veteran of ten years who was just waived by the Bulls last October.

This game has gotten the most screams so far, by a good amount.

Also, Team Barstool has the freshest jerseys in the tournament, and it is not at all close.

My apologies for the quality of my iPhone image, I had to zoom in. But holy crap do you see those jerseys? Light purple that fades into a deep purple as the kit works its way from the shoulders to the knees. Golden stars scattered erratically around their bodies. And their numbers look like they are bold, italicized, Comic Sans. This might be a really special performance in the world of basketball fashion.

Also, while staring deep into the jerseys of Team Barstool, I noticed that shooting guard Matt Walsh has a tattoo of Captain America’s shield right in the area of his shooting elbow. Again, I might have a new favorite team in this tournament. Team Barstool is up 17 at the half.

Update Seven (10:34pm): Team Barstool prevailed 111-84 over Barstool Sports Philly. In the last ten minutes of the game, both teams decided to forgo playing defense in favor of turning the game into Dunkapalooza 2014, which the crowd did not seem to mind. With the result of their game settled, Team Barstool subbed out some of their star talent in favor of giving David Portnoy, “El Presidente” and founder of Barstool Sports some time on the court. He was mic’d up and rained a few horrific threes, which was a bit entertaining. His highlight came about three minutes into his time on the floor, when he blocked Adam Smith, a blogger for Barstool Philly, from behind. I have respect for Smith in this moment. He was on the floor with his stars for the entirety of the game, while Portnoy only came in once the game was well in hand. Plus, he got blocked by his superior. That must suck.

Postgame, Barstoolers from both cities took to the podium and answered questions in what was by far the funniest press segment of the day.

On the far court, Team PUBB Champions handily takes care of St. Anthony’s high school. The game was never all that close, but never really up for grabs either.

On the main court, The North Broad Street Bullies, a collection of Temple alumni including Dalton Pepper and Jake O’Brien. The team jumped out to a 2-16 deficit. Classic Temple. They are facing off against El Vino, a group of former St. Joseph’s players that has three members of the 2004 team that started 27-0, making this a battle for Philadelphia.

They follow it up with a 19-4 run to take a one point lead. Totally not reminiscent of any Temple basketball experience I can remember. The first half ends with the North Broad Street Bullies leading 38-37. Sports are confusing sometimes.

After halftime play is fairly even with the teams trading runs of six or seven points. The Bullies force El Vino to take a timeout after a quick 6-0 run cuts the Hawks lead to three. After the TO, the Owls burst out with a wide open three and a beautiful basket in transition. Bullies up 63-61. On the opposing court, the Sconnie Legends are matching up against Team Showtime, to the loud enjoyment of the crowd. Watching their scoreboard from afar, the game is kept close early, but I choose to remain at my post watching the wise old Owls for karmic purposes.

The game stays close but in North Broad Street’s control; as we get down to 1:22 left the Bullies have a seven point lead. Clock management becomes extremely important, as the tournament plays with a 45 second shot clock, allowing teams to really milk it if the situation calls for it. The Bullies hold on. Final score 90-80.

Post-game, the Bullies seemed more relieved than anything else. Dalton Pepper spoke of the energy of the game, agreeing when prompted by a reporter that yes, the game did have a bit of a throwback “Big 5” feel to it. When asked what they would do with the money if they one the tournament, the team goes silent momentarily, before collectively deciding on “get a bottle and celebrate.”

In the last game of the day, The Sconnie Legends have pulled away from Team Showtime, up 30 with about five minutes to go. The Legends were the only team I saw that played hard even when the game was locked up. They kept on hustling and were looking for the right basketball play on every possession; no one spotting up for threes to pad stats, no showboating alley-oops. They are the Spurs of this tournament and once again, I think I may have a new favorite team.

Update 8 (12:38am): Arriving home, I turn to SportsCenter and see that for the first time in my life, I saw the #1 Top Play live and in person. Remember those alley-oops I was telling you about? The one’s The Crimestopper couldn’t keep from throwing up, and his teammates couldn’t keep from throwing down? Well…

The man that threw down that particular oop was one Marcus Lewis, a former NCAA Slam Dunk Champion. A few hours after the game, he tweeted this:

Mr. Lewis was just super hyped about his oop. Totally understandable, we were all super hyped about it.

Tomorrow, the 16 remaining teams will continue battle until only four are left standing to play in the Semi-Finals on Sunday. Here’s to hoping we get another Top Play out of the occasion.

Sports are the best.

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