Happy Fourth of July, everyone. On top of it being a holiday weekend, there is a special treat in store for you today: sports are back in Columbus!
Today marks the first day of this year’s TBT, a 24-team single-elimination tournament with a winner-take-all pot of $1 million. Now in its seventh year, The Basketball Tournament features former NBA and college basketball stars, and this year’s quarantine edition will take place entirely at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, OH. It will be the first live televised basketball played in the United States since the Big East Tournament played its last game on March 12.
The reigning champions of the TBT are none other than Carmen’s Crew, the Ohio State alumni team that will now get a chance to defend their crown on their home turf. However, Carmen’s Crew is not the only team with a strong Buckeye presence in this year’s abbreviated bracket, as Saturday’s first game will feature a pair of OSU alums when Big X takes the court.
Despite players remaining in isolation for the duration of the tourney, COVID-19 has still had a pretty big impact on this year’s TBT, and especially so in this game. Big X was originally supposed to be comprised of six former Buckeyes, but that number has since been cut to just two. After brothers Andre and Kaleb Wesson pulled out to focus on professional opportunities, the team lost Keyshawn Woods after he was exposed to the coronavirus. Just this week, Jae’Sean Tate tested positive for COVID-19, and will miss at the very least the opening game if not the entire tournament.
That leaves just two Ohio State alums remaining on the Big X roster: Andrew Dakich and CJ Jackson. Dakich, who is also the team’s GM, played for Big X in 2018 before taking on a coaching role during last year’s tournament. The point guard, who spent time at both Michigan and OSU during his collegiate career, will make his return to the court this time around, and is excited for the opportunity to bring sports back into people’s lives.
“We are grateful to be in this tournament and I think the ratings are going to go off the chart because basketball is somewhat back,” Dakich said Wednesday. “If you’re not in the NBA, there’s no reason not to play other than the health and safety aspect. It’s the perfect year to participate.”
He will be playing alongside another former Buckeye point guard in Jackson. Now a member of the Köping Stars in the Basketligan — the highest tier of basketball in Sweden — Jackson averaged 10.2 points per game to go along with 3.4 assists and 3.5 rebounds per contest during his three-year career at Ohio State. His last season in Columbus came during the 2018-19 campaign.
The rest of the Big X roster is for the most part filled out with other former Big Ten players, including familiar names like Nick Ward from Michigan State and Vitto Brown from Wisconsin. The team has a very strong Ohio presence as well. Javon Bess (MSU/St. Louis), Khalil Iverson (Wisconsin) and Jamel Morris (Fairmont State) as well as Ward are all from Central Ohio, while Brown is from Bowling Green. They also feature Trevon Hughes, another former Badger and a three-time All-Big Ten honoree.
“Our team is about teaming up with guys from all over the Big Ten that spent their careers battling against each other. We feel TBT is the perfect platform to show off Big Ten hoops and our players skills. We have a bunch of guys who recently graduated from college and are playing with a chip on their shoulders. We are young and ready to hoop!” - said Jay Shunnar, the team’s assistant GM.
Originally slated to take on the Jackson (TN) Underdawgs, COVID-19 reared its ugly head once again. On Wednesday night one of the players tested positive, resulting in the team being removed from the tournament per TBT rules. In their place will be D2, a group of former Division II standouts who were one of three teams on standby in case of this very thing happening. Already fighting an uphill battle as likely one of the biggest underdogs in the entire TBT, the team will now be playing on short notice after only learning they would be getting a spot three days ago.
While you likely won’t recognize many of the names on the roster, the team will be led by Mike Davis and Deshaun Thrower. A two-sport athlete in football and basketball at Ferris State, Thrower averaged 14 points per game for the Bulldogs his senior year as part of a team that finished 38-1 and won the DII National Championship in 2018. Davis was one of D2’s best players in last year’s TBT, averaging 12.5 points per game, and hit one of the most dramatic shots in the tourney in 2018 when his game-winning three capped an 18-point comeback victory for his squad.
“Our TBT team D2 is comprised of former elite Division II players that all finished their careers in college at NCAA Division II institutions. The majority of the players are all having successful pro careers ranging from the G-League and Overseas. We aren’t here for fun and games, we are hunting the big prize,” said team GM Grant Leonard.
D2 shocked the world last season when they knocked off the Bluegrass Boys — the Kentucky alumni team — 77-62 in Lexington, but it would be a big ask for them to pull off another big upset this time around. Big X is a very talented squad, and features tremendous size and physicality. D2 is going to put up a good fight and may be able make things interesting late if the shots are falling, but look for Big X to have their way on the glass and on the boards in this one, ultimately leading to a victory.
The game is set to tipoff at 3 p.m. ET, and will be broadcast on ESPN. The winner of this matchup will advance to the next round, where they will take on the Dayton alumni team Red Scare.