D2 looking to dispel the notion that only Division 1 talent can win $2 million

 

By: Gabe Maturo | @GabeMaturo

Grant Leonard has built his D2 all-star team into a $2 million contender

After blowing out the Bluegrass Boys in Lexington, D2 coach Grant Leonard checked his phone. He couldn’t believe what he saw.

“I got hundreds of calls and texts from other coaches, players, and referees from all over the Division 2 community,” said Leonard, an assistant coach at Queens University in Charlotte.

Composed mostly of players from Queens, D2 has had the same mantra from the very beginning: prove that Division 2 players can compete with anyone in the world.

In last year’s tournament, D2 proved that to be true. In the team's first game, they shocked the world by beating Kentucky alumni team Bluegrass Boys, 77-62, in front of their home crowd in Lexington. Although they lost to Fort Wayne Champs the next day, it was a battle that came down to the final bucket in Elam Ending time. 

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Nearly every TBT expert predicted they'd be bounced in Round 1. After that showing the team not only proved the doubters wrong, but drew the admiration of the entire TBT world.

“The line between players at both the Division I and Division II level is being blurred more and more today,” said Leonard. “It is not about the level of the team, but the players you bring in. These guys are often overlooked and didn’t get enough exposure in high school, but that doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there.” 

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Guard Mike Davis, a Queens alum and professional player for Cactus Tbilisi in the Georgian Superleague, concurs with Coach Leonard. 

“The talent at all levels is almost identical,” said Davis. “What makes the biggest difference and what people sometimes get confused between [Division 1 players] and us at the Division 2 level is just their athleticism and that they tend to be more athletic and bigger.”

“But, on the flip side, we have plenty of guys who have gone to the Division 1 level from Division 2 that have been really athletic, so the difference isn’t really that big.” 

One of the biggest keys to D2's success is that Coach Leonard has molded the team to play a style of basketball that thrives in TBT. 

“I watched film and studied Overseas Elite and many other teams across TBT,” said Leonard. “I have put together this team to be built to compete well and be just as talented as all the other teams.” 

With that in mind, it's no surprise that Mike Davis is getting his number called for a third appearance in TBT this summer. Davis balled out in last year’s tournament, averaging 12.5 points per game and shooting 42.9% from the field. In 2018, he had one of the most dramatic shots of the tournament, sinking a game-winning three in Elam Ending time to cap an improbable 18-point comeback for the PrimeTime Players

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Davis has made it clear that the team once again looks forward to competing against NBA and D1 talent and that they are built to make it far in the tournament.

“I’m just out here competing,” said Davis. “If they are out there and I’m guarding them, they gotta guard me too. Let’s tip the ball off and get it started.” 

“A lot of teams are just built with two or three guys in mind,” added Leonard, “whereas our team plays as a team and spreads the ball around; it’s not just the same two guys scoring the ball. A huge advantage that we have is the scope of guys that we have to recruit from. We have all of Division II to recruit and I can pick guys that fit the style I need to win this tournament.” 

With four months until tip-off, Coach Leonard still has a lot of preparation in store to get his squad TBT ready. Despite the challenges that lie ahead, he has no doubt that D2 will be a $2 million contender. 

“$2 million dollars. I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t think we had a chance.”