Armored Athlete has one TBT goal left: to win a title

 

By: Gabe Maturo 


Armored Athlete has done everything but win TBT

The Armored Athlete success story begins in 2015.

Coming into the 2015 tournament, GM AJ Mahar did not know that he would be suiting up to play in a TBT game.

However, when a few players with other basketball commitments were unable to attend, Mahar’s roster was left with few players available to play in the first round game.

Mahar started his college basketball career at Bryant University and finished it in 2009 at Saint Joseph’s University (In.). After playing, he became an assistant coach at Albany Academy (NY) from 2011-2012. He then moved on to be an assistant coach at the Division 3 Southern Vermont College for 3 years between 2013-2016.

Now, Mahar is entering his 6th year as GM of TBT’s Armored Athlete.

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This sudden change of events left Mahar with only one option: play in his team’s first ever TBT game.

“Me and my buddy suited up for the first game,” said Mahar. “We had to suit up and play minutes because we only had five guys who played pro ball on our roster.”

His team would go on to earn their first ever TBT victory with a win over Chicago Elite 98-86.

After the first round win, things finally started to fall into place. Players like Malcolm Miller, who flew overnight after a Summer League game with the Raptors, started to become available for the upcoming games.

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With wins in the next two rounds over Reach 1 Teach 1 and the Illinois Hoopville Warriors, Mahar and Armored Athlete found themselves facing a tough Ants Alumni team in the Quarterfinals.

Armored Athlete gave it their all, but fell just 4 points short of a Semifinals bid.

“I was surprised and disappointed,” said Mahar. “We played very very poorly in that game. I was disappointed because we didn’t put our best product out there that day. But it was a sense of accomplishment in some regard because it showed that we could compete. We barely lost to a great team.”

Not only did this TBT run crush all expectations that were put on Armored Athlete, but it was the start to a lasting reputation for success that his team was just beginning to build.

This reputation would continue to grow as Mahar and Armored Athlete continued to prove themselves in the tournament.

In 2016, they would go on to the third round of the tournament before losing to the Marquette Alumni team, 71-82.

Although it was a shorter run in the tournament than the year before, it would still prove to be an important one. Armored Athlete won their first and second round games by an average margin of victory of 30 points.

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This outing validated the notion that this team was not to be taken lightly and that they could be a serious threat in the tournament for years to come.

Just a year later, in 2017, Armored Athlete started out the tournament with a 119-74 blowout win over The Pearl 31’s.

The team’s next two games would show the world their true dexterity.

In the third round and Super 16 of the tournament, Mahar and his team dismantled the 2015 and 2016 TBT runner-ups. With a seven point victory over Team 23 and a hard fought 84-75 victory over Team Colorado, Armored Athlete now proved to the world that they are one of TBT’s best.

“To knock off those previous runner-ups in Team 23 and Team Colorado felt really good,” said Mahar. “It really gave us a sense of validity that we can put together a team that has a good chance to win it.”

These big wins not only confirmed that Armored Athlete was a serious threat, but that they could now compete with the TBT elite and make a run for the title.

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Moving forward in the 2017 tournament, the team made it to the West Regional Championship Game before falling to the eventual runner-up Team Challenge ALS.

The 2017 run proved many things about Armored Athlete, but more specifically, that they now have a continued reputation for being a successful and top TBT team.

The constant that continued to drive the team’s success is the winning culture that Mahar had been starting to build around his team. Part of this stems from his ability to recruit players that were smart and that wanted to win and play as a team.

“When recruiting, I’ve always tried to figure out how high a guy’s basketball IQ is,” said Mahar. “You don’t get a lot of practice time, so I try to talk with guys and pick their brains to see their IQ. The guys that I bring in are coachable and adaptable, everyone is out here to help each other and not play for themselves. I bring in guys who hate to lose more than they love to win.”

This winning culture could be seen by fans and players all over TBT and it was one of the driving factors in getting better talent to join Armored Athlete.

“When I first started, it was guys I played with or had known from coaching, training, or from other people that played for us,” said Mahar. “Now I have met a lot of agents, players, and coaches from being in TBT and I can bring in higher talent.” 

TBT Northeast Basketball Tournament

“Guys heard our name and they knew that we have had success in TBT. The consistency of success that our team has had has been a key driver in us continuing to be successful and continuing to build better rosters that help us to compete.”

In the 2018 tournament, after picking up quality wins over DC On Point and Gael Nation, Mahar and his team found themselves in the Super 16 once again. This time, though, Armored Athlete could not overcome the forces of Boeheim’s Army as they lost by a frustrating four points.

Last year, with an upset loss in the second round of the tournament to Team Brotherly Love, the team was not able to live out their title expectations.

Now, however, it is safe to say that Armored Athlete is a team whose reputation is embodied by success.

“Our team name has become sort of a household name for TBT fans,” said Mahar. “Guys know that the way we go about things is very professional and that we are on a mission. We continue to rack up wins year after year and players can look at us and see that.”

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One of the keys to this success lies in the togetherness that Mahar has created in his team’s culture.

“It’s been a really big team effort,” said Mahar. “I involve everybody. I've had really good coaches, boosters, and players that have helped every year. It’s been a combination of everyone helping us find good players and coaches year after year. Everybody that I have is just so invested in what we do and what Armored Athlete is all about.”

The relationships that Mahar has generated and maintained in his five years in TBT have also been a significant piece to the team’s achievements.

“I love to network and help people be successful,” said Mahar. “For TBT, it’s the relationships that I’m able to build and sustain. I remain friends with and talk to many guys that have played for us year-round.”

The guys that play for Armored Athlete are not just players, but pieces of a puzzle that all fit together to achieve one common goal: win basketball games.

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“I’ve had guys that check their ego at the door,” said Mahar. “They’re not in it for themselves, they’re in it to win. They’re here to do it as a team. I have guys who are bought in for the right reasons. Guys that hate to lose more than they love to win.”

“It really is a lifestyle,” added Mahar. “It’s 100% commitment from a lot of different people. Everybody is a basketball maniac. The love of the game, the commitment to each other, the hate to lose more than the love to win, embodies what we are about. TBT has been an obsession for all of us.” 

The Armored Athlete lifestyle and winning culture reaches far outside of TBT. The guys that have played or coached for Armored Athlete are now carrying the team’s reputation for success into their own careers.

Malcolm Miller played for Armored Athlete in the 2015 and 2016 tournaments. Just three years after playing for Mahar’s team, he became an NBA Champion with the Toronto Raptors.

Dan Engelstad was a Division 3 coach at Southern Vermont College before coaching Armored Athlete. Now, he is the head coach at Mount Saint Mary’s University, a Division 1 school.

Terrico White has played for Armored Athlete in the past two tournaments. He is now a two-time Australian NBL League champion (2019 and 2020) and a Grand Final MVP (2019).

Mahar and his team now look forward to the 2020 TBT Tournament in the hopes that the Armored Athlete lifestyle and the winning mentality it encompasses will carry them to their first title.

“I just want to win, man,” said Mahar. “Bottom-line. At the end of the day, it’s just about winning the event. I don’t see myself stopping until I do.”