The NBA doesn't hold a monopoly on summer basketball excitement. In 2014, Jonathan Mugar developed an open, single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament. He named it The Basketball Tournament (TBT), and offered up a $500,000 prize. Mugar recognized the opportunity to draw teams from diverse pools of basketball talent for a summer hoops event. With half a million dollars on the line, over 100 teams applied for spots in the field. Leveraging an adept social media campaign, he whittled the applicants down to 32 teams. Featuring former college athletes, players on the edge of pro rosters, and street/pick-up ballers, TBT filled the expanse between the traditional basketball season with a cash-fueled summer extravaganza.
Former Notre Dame walk-on and Double-Domer, Kieran Piller assembled a group of fellow Irish alumni to enter the inaugural TBT in 2014. As a 2007 grad, Piller assembled his Fighting Alumni squad and rallied them around a promise to play for a purpose and donate 20% of their winnings to charity.
The Fighting Alumni advanced through the 32 team bracket to take the first TBT title. On the eve of the championship, Zach Hillesland posted his thoughts to SI.com. This merry band of Irish alumni beat Team Barstool in a thrilling final, and FIDM followed along with Irish Head Coach Mike Brey as he made his way to Philly to support his former players:
What a fantastic endorsement of Brey as a coach and program builder. The fact these guys still want to be around one another and care about representing the program and Brey speaks volumes to the quality he brings to South Bend. The team donated $40,000 to Coaches vs. Cancer in Brey's name, and each player elected to donate $10,000 from their personal share. The Fighting Alumni embodied Notre Dame's commitment to service.
It is nice to see the Fighting Alumni aren't shy about discussing a repeat, so let's dive in to this year...
Everything about The Basketball Tournament is a little bigger in 2015. Most notably, the prize has doubled and teams are now fighting for a million dollar winner-take-all pot. The field has been expanded to 97 teams and is littered with former NBA talent. The expansion has drawn the interest of ESPN with the quarterfinals shown on ESPN U and this year's semi's and finals airing on tWWL's flagship station.
Of course, the increases in field size, television coverage, and prize value have drawn a bigger talent pool. Former NBA slam dunk champ Nate Robinson and former NBA champs Jason Williams and Brian Scalabrine headline new additions to the player pool for 2015.
The tournament kicks off with four regional tournaments on Friday 7/10 through Sunday 7/12. Ninety six teams will battle it out to determine the 16 teams who will join the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni in the Super 17 in Chicago 7/23-25. Play in Chicago will determine the final four teams that will compete for the million dollar prize in NYC 8/1 and 8/2.
The West Regional will be held in Los Angeles and is highlighted by the Grantland team. Carrying the top seed in the west, the Grantland squad boasts Michael Rapport as a booster and a lot of former NBA talent. Matt Bonner, Brian Scalabrine, Jason Williams, Mike Bibby, and Royal Ivey give the Grantland side a deep NBA-experienced roster. Interestingly, Notre Dame alumni Garrick Sherman is also listed on the Grantland roster, so we'll have to keep a keen eye on their turnover numbers as they progress through the brackets. This will certainly be the team to watch, particularly as they are backed by an ESPN media property in a tournament tWWL is airing.
TeamBDB is the top seed in Atlanta's South Region. Led by former Kansas stand-out Josh Selby, BDB will show a lot of bounce and length with 3 players 6'11" or bigger.
A deep Midwest bracket will face off in Chicago with SLAM holding the top seed. Formerly Team Barstool, last year's runner up reloaded with talent from other semi-finalists and picked up the backing of SLAM Magazine.
The top seed in the Northeast Region will be very familiar to Notre Dame fans. Boeheim's Army is filled with alumni from our former Big East and current ACC foes. Assembled by a former Orange team manager, the squad is highlighted by high-flying Hakim Warrick and sharp-shooting Eric Devendorf.
You can peruse the entire bracket on TBT's website.
THE DEFENDING CHAMPS
The Notre Dame Fighting Alumni will receive an automatic bye to the Super 17 to be contested in Chicago. The 2015 edition of the Fighting Alumni brings back most of the championship squad with a few notable additions. Point guard Chris Thomas (2005) will not be returning, but the back court will be bolstered by Eric Atkins and Ben Hansbrough. In the front court, the Fighting Alumni are adding 3-time All-American Luke Harangody to the mix. Zach Hillesland (2009) will move from the court to the bench this year joining Piller and Jordan Cornette (2005) in coaching roles.
Let's break down the roster...
- Eric Atkins (2014)
- Ben Hansbrough (2011)
- Tory Jackson (2010)
Jackson remains one of my all-time favorite leaders in a Notre Dame uniform, and the Irish get much younger with Atkins' legs in the back court. Fighting Alumni fans can rest assured this squad won't back down from anyone with Hansbrough in the line-up.
- Tim Abromaitis (2011/12)
- Ryan Ayers (2009)
- Russell Carter (2007)
- Colin Falls (2007)
- Carelton Scott (2011)
Much like Brey's teams from this era, this team has the ability to be deceptively big. Guys like Abro and Scott can play anywhere from the 2 to the 4, giving the Irish the ability to go really big while still stretching you out. Falls still has a sweet stroke from deep that will force defenses to open up the floor, while Ayers and Russ are still showing plenty of bounce to carve up opposition defenses. Ayers and Carter also give the Fighting Alumni some lock-down defenders. There's a ton of positional flexibility with this group.
- Torin Francis (2006)
- Luke Harangody (2010)
- Rob Kurz (2008)
- Tyrone Nash (2011)
Harangody is set to have a pretty busy July. Just this week, he signed on with the Phoenix Suns to be part of their squad in the Las Vegas NBA Summer League. Should his Summer Suns make it to the finals in Vegas, they'll wrap up play on 7/20, and the Fighting Alumni will kick off their campaign in Chicago on 7/23. Obviously, the former Cav and Celtic highlights this group, but don't sleep on Ty Nash. Last year's championship squad frequently sent Nash to the block where he he was a terror. With 19 points on 8-10 shooting in the 2014 final, Nash earned tournament MVP honors. You can always count on great defending and rebounding out of Nash to go with his low-post scoring. Torin Francis gets the distinction of elder statesmen on the squad while giving NDFA another very legitimate scoring threat and size on the blocks. Rob Kurz is another guy who gives this team a lot of flexibility. He could enable 5-out looks where his perimeter screening and shooting opens the floor for guys like Atkins and Jackson to carve up defenses on pick and pops.
The Fighting Alumni sport 3 guys who sniffed the NBA with Harangody, Kurz, and Hansbrough and a number of guys who still make a living balling overseas. Once again, as a sound affirmation of Brey's program, you know you're going to get great passing and team play out of this bunch. They'll run a lot of open sets and a little bit of motion, but their biggest strength will be their ability to take advantage of other team's weaknesses. They can play in smaller run-and-gun line-up's or they can trot out a lot of beef to body you up. There's a preponderance of flexibility and basketball IQ on this roster. They won't be the favorites to repeat, but no one should be sleeping on this year's Fighting Alumni.
You can pick up tickets to see these former Irish greats in the Super 17 in Chicago, along with tickets to any of the TBT venues here.
If you can't be there in person, you can follow the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni on The Basketball Tournament's website and keep your eyes on ESPN for viewing opportunities at the end of the month. We'll do our best to keep you updated right here as the 2014 champions defend their crown.