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The Basketball Tournament TBT Basketball 2019 Columbus Ohio Nothing But Nylon Mark Donahue

The Basketball Tournament Raises Stakes, Creates Pro Battleground

For the last six years, pros have converged for The Basketball Tournament, a cant-miss summer event with a name that couldn’t be more self-descriptive.

For the last six years, professionals from across America have converged for The Basketball Tournament (TBT), a summer event with a name that couldn’t be more self-descriptive.

With each passing edition, TBT seems to grow, with greater exposure and name recognition across its rosters than ever before. It largely features players whom college basketball fanatics will remember from the last 10 or so years but as grown men with professional experience under their belts.

TBT has provided high-level players, many of whom would otherwise be sitting at home across America, struggling to find a reliable option for appropriate competition, a chance to do battle with other professionals.

“I think what it does, more than anything, is it gives people a place to play,” said Kenny Frease, who played center at Xavier from 2008-12 and has played overseas since graduation. “With all the down time in the summer time, a lot of guys are sitting around. I sometimes have trouble finding places to go play, finding guys to work out with and all that stuff.”

Frease played for Mid-American Unity, which lasted until the second round of the 2019 TBT. It was his first time participating in the event, and other than the games themselves, the practice beforehand stood out to him.

“We’ve been working out as a team, and we know each other a little better,” he explained. “Getting this kind of season-type schedule where you’re kind of doing your own stuff in the morning, and then at night time coming together as a team and playing five-on-five, that side of it is really good.”

Not every team can swing that same luxury, but even without team practices, the games themselves are worth it. Devin Oliver, a former Dayton standout from 2010-14 who has spent five seasons overseas, said he would play in TBT even if it had less exposure.

“I’m from a small city: Kalamazoo, Michigan,” said Devin Oliver, who played in TBT in 2017 on Broad Street Brawlers and returned in 2019 with Red Scare, a Dayton alumni team. “Maybe once in a blue moon there’s a good basketball run in Kalamazoo, open gym type of thing. For me to just come right down here to Columbus, (Ohio,) an area I’m very familiar with, and just to be able to play, I think I would still do it.”

But that’s not the case. TBT has at least portions of each of its rounds aired live on ESPN, and all games from the second round on can be watched on ESPN2, ESPNU or ESPN3, a big opportunity for players, particularly younger ones.

“There’s a lot of exposure on ESPN,” said The Region’s Jarrod Jones, a Ball State player from 2008-12 and a seven-year overseas vet. “For especially some of the younger guys who are just coming fresh out of college, don’t have any looks yet, it’s a great opportunity, especially if they can get all the way to Chicago and make it to that championship game where there’s all eyes on them. They get out there on ESPN, they can really make a big name for themselves. I know there are plenty of coaches and agents who are watching.”

Atmospheres can be rowdy, especially when alumni teams play close to their campuses. In Columbus, Ohio State and Dayton fans packed The Capital Center Performance Arena when Carmen’s Crew, the Ohio State alumni team, and Red Scare met for a trip to the tournament’s quarterfinals in Chicago. Both fan bases treated it as though the present Flyers and Buckeyes were on the floor, with dueling chants and roars at every basket; a little slice of college basketball in the middle of July.

The Basketball Tournament TBT Basketball 2019 Columbus Ohio Nothing But Nylon Mark Donahue

“Basketball is a small world,” said Vee Sanford, a Red Scare guard who played at Dayton from 2012-14 and has played four professional seasons across the pond. “Something like this, it makes it even smaller, especially with the great college atmospheres that most teams have. It’s special. It’s a big tournament. It brings a lot of old memories and a lot of stuff together.”

Numerical proof of the tournament’s growth can be found in its prize money. In 2014, TBT awarded $500,000 to the winning team. Since 2016, that amount has been $2 million, and the intensity of the games matches what’s on the line.

“The competition in the tournament is too good to just play open gym,” said Carmen’s Crew’s Aaron Craft, who played at Ohio State from 2010-14 and has stints overseas and in the D-League since. “You definitely have to take it more serious.”

Put it all together, and you have something people want to be a part of.

“I love the feel,” said Michael Porrini, who coached and general managed Mid-American Unity. “I love it when you’re walking into the building, and you feel like a professional. You have that opportunity to display your talents against other professionals, whether it be on the court or as a coaching staff. It’s a huge opportunity with The Basketball Tournament, and I know how big of an opportunity it is. I’ll do everything in my power to continuously try and build each year and be in The Basketball Tournament as long as it’s going on.”

At this point, TBT has established itself as a landmark of summer basketball with no signs of slowing down.

“I would say it’s right there at the top,” said Oliver, comparing TBT to other events he’s been around. “I’ll play in pro-am and things like that in the summer time, but something on this scale with ESPN coverage and everything like that, I think this is right there at the top. It’s just gotten better and better every year.”

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