First-Year TBT teams Have Belief They Can Challenge and Beat The Best

 

By: David Schneidman | @ddschneidman


Lack of experience not phasing first-year TBT squads 

The dominance of four-time TBT champions Overseas Elite has proved it takes more than just talent to take home the grand prize. It takes chemistry, experience, and consistency. Six players -- DJ Kennedy, Errick McCollum, Paris Horne, Kyle Fogg, Johndre Jefferson, and Todd O’Brien -- have been a part of all four championship runs. Colin Curtin was the coach for three of them. Travis Bader, Myck Kabongo, Justin Burrell, and DeAndre Kane have also been instrumental in Overseas Elite’s four-peat, with each winning the title at least twice.

“Everybody is going after Overseas Elite. That's everybody's goal,” said Loyalty is Love General Manager Andrew Moore. “They've proven they're the best. They're the gold standard.”

While every team is hoping to dethrone the four-time champions, the 21 teams participating in TBT for the first time this summer -- 10 of which are a 5-seed or lower -- are eager to become the next juggernaut or underdog story. The tournament’s newcomers include top-seeded Team Hines and Loyalty is Love, as well as underdog 8-seed Boo Williams and 7-seed D2. The majority of the new teams are made up of players participating in TBT for the first time, however some have guys with tournament experience.

No matter the makeup of their team, the soon-to-be TBT debutants are confident they can make up for lack of tournament experience and advance to Chicago. Some, like Team Loyalty is Love, believes it can with talent. Team Draddy, a Manhattan alumni team, wants to use its underdog mentality to outhustle and wear teams down. D2, a team fully comprised of former Division II players, wants to “jump on” teams, guard Todd Withers said, and surprise them with their physicality.

“We all know what we're getting ourselves into. We know the competition,” said Withers, who will face 2-seed Bluegrass Boys, a Kentucky alumni team, in the first round. “They're probably going to think we're not up to par, and that's better for us.”

On paper, Bluegrass Boys are a shoe-in for the second round. Many are looking ahead to the potential Quarterfinals matchup in the Lexington Regional between the Kentucky alumni and top-seeded Loyalty is Love, whose team was constructed by General Manager DeMarcus Cousins. Withers and D2 are determined to not let that happen. 

“We're going to try to use our wit and play smart and conservative, try not to waste possessions," said Withers, "When you waste a possession against those guys, you'll be down a bucket. So we can't let ourselves get too far behind. We're going to grind it out.”

Boo Williams, the 8-seed in the Greensboro Regional, is another team vying for a monumental first-round upset. The squad, made up entirely of ex-Boo Williams AAU players, will face first-year favorites Team Hines on July 19 in the opening round. The roster includes former Division I talent like NC State’s Cat Barber, Oklahoma’s Steve Pledger and Murray State’s BJ Jenkins.

Pledger, a 6-foot-5 guard, said that even though Team Hines is one of the favorites to win TBT this summer, both teams’ limited tournament experience will mean for a close game. 

Last year, 2-seed HBC Sickerville, which overseas legends Kyle Hines, Mike James, and Nick Calathes were set to join after the opening two rounds, was upset by 15-seed Talladega Knights in the Round of 64. The decorated trio will be on the court for Team Hines from the opening tip this summer, but that hasn’t phased Pledger and his team.

“Our chance is as good as any. That's a new team,” said Pledger. “They're just like us. They have to take it one game at a time and so do we. I think we can pull out a win.”

If Boo Williams is to knock off the 1-seed, it will be because of a tenacious defensive effort, Pledger said. 

While D2 and Boo Williams hope to make an unlikely run in their first TBT, Team Hines and Loyalty is Love want nothing less than a championship. Moore knows his team has the personnel to do so, but getting there won’t be easy, he said. He cited his team’s lack of TBT experience as a major disadvantage, especially if they advance to the later rounds.

“It's definitely going to be a challenge for us, and it's a major advantage for the teams that have been there,” said Moore. “We have no expectations of it being an easy road or our talent taking over. Experience matters and other teams have it.”

Despite Loyalty is Love’s status as a first-year team, its opponents will be fully aware of the talent on its roster. Cousins, who Moore called “the chief recruiter and connecter”, lured former Brooklyn Nets guard Markel Brown, Marquette star Darius Johnson-Odom, 2018 Israeli League champion Pierre Jackson and more to represent his squad this summer. The team’s star power will be enough to carry them to Chicago and the title, Moore said.

“It’s definitely championship or bust,” said Moore. “There’s no consolation prize for us.”

Not every first-year team is worried about its lack of experience in TBT. Team Draddy, a Manhattan alumni team, will rely on its MAAC and NCAA Tournament experience in high-pressure situations this summer, GM Kenny Bowen said. Shane Richards, Rich Williams, Zane Waterman, Rhamel Brown and Georgie Beamon -- all of who won at least one MAAC Tournament from 2014-16 -- will suit up for Team Draddy. 

In both the 2015 and 2016 MAAC Tournament, Manhattan defeated top-seeded Iona in the championship, earning the Jaspers their seventh and eighth ever NCAA Tournament appearances.

“I think having an alumni team where most of the guys have played through a similar system, if not the same system, helps a team coming in,” said Bowen. “And success in tournament play absolutely helps if you have experience in that.”

While teams like Overseas Elite, Boeheim’s Army and Golden Eagles boast experience, returning players, and some of the top talent in TBT, there is no telling what may happen in this summer’s tournament with so many new pieces in play. Among TBT’s newcomers, there is certainly no shortage of motivation or confidence, no matter who they face.

“I can tell you most guys are pretty motivated, not only financially,” said Moore. “There’s a lot of motivation for players, GMs and everybody involved to go all the way.”