Florida TNT hopes to bring bully ball mentality to TBT 2020

 

By: Dylan Woods


Florida TNT's game plan this summer? To out physical your favorite team.

If you want to find success in TBT, you have to be prepared to play physical basketball. When $2 million is on the line, no basket is going to come easy.

That’s exactly why Florida TNT believes they are in a unique position to win $2 million this summer.

“We play a more physical brand of basketball than they play in most places in the United States,” said the team’s GM Terry Hughes. “New York is more of a and-one type of basketball. The showboat-y ‘I’m a star, let me dribble and show off’ type of thing. We don’t play that.”

In fact, the team is so physical that Hughes may need to alter how they prepare leading up to TBT 2020.

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In years past, TNT would play in tournaments around Florida and the country, such as New York, to dust off the cobwebs. However, with the competition not coming close to the level of TBT, the risk of injury outweighs the reward of beating down on low-grade opponents.

Instead, their best option might be to sharpen iron with iron and let the group face off against a more equal adversary: themselves.

“Maybe we should just bring in referees and scrimmage against ourselves,” said Hughes. “Guys on [our] team are capable of showing you up. And in most of the tournaments we’re playing, the [competition] is not on that level.”

After failing to advance past the Super 16 the last few summers, this year has the potential to be great for the group of Sunshine State ballers. And when you get a combination of hard-nosed, get-in-your-face type players crossed with high levels of talent, the sky is the limit.

“If we’re not playing for the championship we’re not playing,” said Hughes. “For us, it’s championship or bust. If you’re playing for second place, you’re playing to lose. We’re past those days of participating just to participate.”

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When asked about expectations for the team, forward Eric Griffin cut right to the chase: “To win.”

As it sits today, there is an argument to be made that Florida TNT has the best collection of talent in the field. The roster consists of guys with NBA experience, such as Antonio Blakeney and DeVaughn Akoon-Purcell, and a litter of recent college standouts. 

And after losing in the second round last year, Florida TNT completely changed up the rotation. Just three players remain from last year’s team: Griffin, Akoon-Purcell, and Chris Warren.

 

One newbie is sharpshooter Fletcher Magee, the NCAA's all-time leader in three pointers made. The Orlando native was the main man at Wofford when the Terriers nearly beat Kentucky in the second round of the 2019 NCAA Tournament. He’ll join the team for his first year of TBT after spending some time playing in the NBA Summer League and Spain this year.

Another addition is point guard Rob Gray, who went to West Oaks Academy in Orlando and averaged 18.8 points in three seasons with the Houston Cougars. In 2018, he led a 27-8 Houston team to the brink of a Sweet Sixteen berth, before Jordan Poole of Michigan ended their season with a miraculous buzzer beater.

“We always go big-game hunting when we’re looking for guys,” said Hughes. “We’re looking for the very best guys that have that edge to them.”

With the bevy of new players, and especially with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing players into quarantine, it might be tough to get the chemistry in lockstep. Still, the group is confident that they’ll be able to figure things out once they get on the court.

“It’s all about repetition,” said Warren. “The best way chemistry can be put together is just by playing with each other [and] being around each other. You learn tendencies, what [teammates] are good at, not good at.”

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It should also help that a lot of guys on the current roster are already familiar with one another. 

“I know all of them [on the team] already,” said Akoon-Purcell. “And I’ve played against all of them.”

“Every summer we’re running,” added Warren. “Some of them I’ve played with growing up [in Florida].”

Although the tournament still sits months away, Florida TNT is gearing up for their deepest run yet.

And they’ll do so by playing Florida basketball.

“We play our basketball like we play our football [in Florida]," said Hughes. "We’re gonna touch you when we play.”