Carmen’s Crew —the Ohio State alumni team that’s participated in the annual TBT Tournament every year since 2017 — had the opportunity last summer to become just the second team ever to win back-to-back titles. With a roster that included the likes of Aaron Craft, William Buford, Jon Diebler, and David Lighty, the squad of (mostly) former Buckeyes were one of the favorites to win the $1 Million, winner-take-all tournament in 2020 after beating the Golden Eagles (Marquette alumni) in 2019.
Instead of repeating, they did the exact opposite, bowing out in the first round to 16-seed House of ‘Paign (Illinois alumni plus Mike Daum), 76-68. Now, seeding in TBT is not the same as seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Seeding is determined based on prior performance as well as the tournament’s perception of the overall roster. Because Carmen’s Crew won TBT in 2019, they were the top-seed by default. House of ‘Paign was new to TBT last season, so they were assigned a lower seed, despite having a super talented roster.
Make no mistake, that team was jacked, and was one of the teams I pointed out last summer as a team to watch. In addition to former Illinois standouts Malcolm Hill, Michael Finke, Andres Feliz, and Leron Black, the pseudo-Illini squad also added Mike Daum — who most Buckeye fans are familiar with from when Ohio State matched up with his South Dakota State team in the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Daum, the seventh-leading scorer in NCAA history, gave Carmen’s Crew fits, scoring 23 points and grabbing eight rebounds en route to their first round upset.
Carmen’s Crew had the more talented roster, there’s few disputing that. But as the game wore on, they just looked....old? While the Buckeye squad possessed four of the five best players on the floor (give credit to Daum here), ‘Paign had more energy, hustle, and enthusiasm from the jump. Even when the first half concluded with Carmen’s Crew leading by five, it felt like the men in scarlet and gray were trailing just based off the energy (or lack thereof) they were showing over the first two quarters.
Give credit to the fellas from Illinois for never letting up, but Carmen’s Crew looked a lot like the group of 30-somethings who like to show up at the local rec center once a month and try to run full-court against the college kids, only to sweat through their hacked-off t-shirts and headbands within 15 minutes and need to take a lengthy water break. Carmen’s Crew needs to inject some youth into this team, and pronto.
After last year’s TBT was confined to Nationwide Arena and the field reduced from 64 teams to 24 due to COVID-19, this year’s tournament will once again include 64 teams and will be played at several regional sites across the country from July 16 through Aug. 3. One of those regional locations will be Ohio State’s Covelli Center, which holds more people and is a newer facility than Capital University’s Capital Center — where games were previously held. Social distancing will be enforced at the Covelli Center, and fans can buy tickets in groups of 2-4 on the TBT website.
Carmen’s Crew has already announced they’ll return this summer for their fifth TBT tournament, and several mainstays are expected to return to compete. David Lighty, William Buford, Jon Diebler, and Evan Ravenel have already announced they will return to the team. Current Boston Celtics assistant coach and former Big Ten Player of the Year Evan Turner has retained his position as GM, and Jared Sullinger plans on returning from playing in South Korea in time to once again serve as Carmen’s Crew’s head coach. Diebler and Buford told the Columbus Dispatch last month that they’re “Working on (getting) Sully to play,” referring to Sullinger. For now, Sullinger is their coach. Could that change?
While no other players have officially committed, there are several who have participated year in and year out and are pretty sure bets to return. Otterbein legend/honorary Buckeye/human bowling ball Jeff Gibbs has been one of Carmen’s Crew’s best players for the past few years, and I expect he’ll play this summer. Aaron Craft told everyone last summer that he was done with basketball when he enrolled into medical school at Ohio State in the ball, but this past February he told the Dispatch “We’ll see,” about playing in TBT this summer ~insert eyes emoji~. Dallas Lauderdale, whom I believe to be the single scariest and most intimidating person to ever play basketball for Ohio State, would provide some much needed size and rebounding to the team, but is not a huge offensive threat.
More than anything, this team needs to add some youth, and more specifically some younger guards. If Craft doesn’t come back, Carmen’s Crew needs a point guard. Even if he does come back, they could use an off-guard or second point guard who’s on the right side of 30. Carmen’s Crew was the better team last summer when they lost to House of ‘Paign, but they were also the slower and less athletic team. That needs to change.
So who are some former Buckeyes they could look to add to this year’s roster? There’s a few players whom they’ve tried to get every year, but it hasn’t worked out. There’s also a few more recently-graduated Buckeyes that I think would really add some juice to this team:
Years at Ohio State: 2014-2018
Noteworthy stats: 7.9 PPG, 87.9% FT, 44% FG, 40.3% 3PT
Currently: Playing for CD Povoa in Portugal
While Kam Willams’ defined role at Ohio State was the resident three-point sniper, he actually took more two-point shots (463) than three-pointers (427) during his four years. While he was a lethal shooter, he was also one of the most vicious dunkers to grace the Schottenstein Center rims over the past 10 years or so.
I know nothing about Portugese basketball, but it looks like his season ends in June, just in time for him to fly back and give Carmen’s Crew a spry, bouncy guard they can summon off the bench when their starting lineup starts to get a bit stagnant, like it did last summer. Also, his share of the $1 Million would probably rival the money he makes in Portugal, just saying.
Years at Ohio State: 2010-2013
Noteworthy stats: 14.4 PPG, 5.0 REB, 80.2% FT, 47.8% FG
Currently: Playing for Alvark Tokyo in Japan’s B. League
Each of the past two years, it’s been rumored that Thomas was going to join Carmen’s Crew, but it didn’t work out either year. He’s 29 years old, so doesn’t quite fit the “youthful overhaul” I was describing, but if added, he would immediately become one of — if not the— best player on the team. He’s currently tearing up Japan’s B.League to the tune of 16.5 points per game in just under 25 minutes per contest, which is head-scratchingly impressive.
The 6-foot-7 lefty does most of his work around the basket, but can step back and knock it down from deep every once in awhile if need be. More than anything it would be a huge free-agent addition for a team that needs to add some talent to their aging roster.
Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Years at Ohio State: 2010-2014
Noteworthy stats: 7.7 PPG, 43.9% FG, 131 games played
Currently: Playing for Hapoel Tel Aviv in the Israeli Premiere League
Smith played for Carmen’s Crew last season, and is a former teammate of all four players who are currently committed to playing again this year. With Craft (if he comes back) as the only guard on the team, GM Evan Turner should go make sure Smith comes back for this summer’s TBT as well. While he’s not flashy in any particular area, he can handle the ball if need be, pull down rebounds, and score — although he’s likely the fifth or sixth option on this team.
Probably the least fun of everyone on this list, but Carmen’s Crew would be smart to get Lenzelle Smith Jr. back on board.
Years at Ohio State: 2017-2020
Noteworthy stats: 12.9 PTS, 7.0 REB, 38.5% 3PT, 49.5% FG,
Currently: Playing for the Santa Cruz Warriors of the NBA G-League
Adding Wesson would add size, shooting, and energy to an older Carmen’s Crew team that could certainly use some fresh legs. After garnering all-conference honors at Ohio State as a sophomore and junior, the 6-foot-10 Wesson went undrafted in the 2020 NBA Draft and signed with the Warriors as an undrafted free agent. He averaged 11.7 points on 53% shooting this past season (31% from 3PT) while also grabbing 9.9 rebounds per game for the Santa Cruz Warriors, the G-League affiliate of Golden State. He also dished out 2.7 assists per game, and did all of that in 26 minutes per game.
Wesson was all but set to play for Big X in last summer’s TBT before pulling out last second. His interest in TBT is obviously there, but could Turner and Sullinger woo him over to play with the older guard of Buckeyes? I hope so.
Amedeo Delle Valle
Years at Ohio State: 2012-2014
Noteworthy stats: None, really
Currently: Playing for Budocnost in the Adriatic League
This is my only reach on this list, because I really think the other four are additions could and should happen. Delle Valle is another thing entirely. He played two seasons for Ohio State under Thad Matta, and was supposed to come in and develop into a lights-out shooter for the Buckeyes. That didn’t really happen, as he averaged just 3.6 points per game for the Buckeyes during his two seasons, and shot 34% from three-point range.
However, Delle Valle was —and still is— one of the biggest fan favorites of the past decade, with his floppy hair bouncing in every direction whenever he took the court. Having played under Matta and with most of the current Carmen’s Crew team, he’d be able to step right back in and know the whole team. The former student body presidential candidate wouldn’t bring a ton to the table stat wise, but he would bring the energy this team’s searching for, that’s for damn sure.