For NBA champions and D1 head coaches, Armored Athlete helped pave the way

 

By: Jake Peter | @jakepeter_


 Armored Athlete has quietly become basketball's biggest breeding ground for pro success

Over the past four years, Armored Athlete GM A.J. Mahar has quietly operated one of the most successful franchises in TBT history.

When he created the team in 2015, Mahar landed a couple of former University of Indiana players thanks to his close relationship with former Hoosiers guard Will Sheehey. Since then, he has continued to recruit high-level Division I players and compile unbelievably talented rosters every summer.

Mahar, who is an assistant coach at Division III Southern Vermont College when he’s not running Armored Athlete, has guided the team to four straight Super 16 appearances. He attributes the players’ willingness to return year after year to the team’s culture and TBT track record.

“The history of Armored Athlete has played a large part,” said Mahar, “in addition to the relationships we all have with coaches and agents and players around the world.”

Several Armored Athlete players and coaches have gone on to participate at the highest levels immediately after leaving the team. Forward Malcolm Miller, now an NBA champion with the Toronto Raptors, played for Armored Athlete while he was in the G-League. In addition, former Armored Athlete head coach Dan Engelstad is now the head man at Mount St. Mary’s University. 

 

Mahar said the team’s front office has been able to spot players that bring unique skill sets to both Armored Athlete and the top leagues around the world.

“We don’t just see the big names,” said Mahar. “We see how guys fit into a system that helps them be attractive to teams at high levels.”

First-year guard Keith Hornsby said Armored Athlete’s track record and reputation convinced him to join the team.

“The first thing that stood out to me was that they’re a perennial contender,” said Hornsby. “They’re not only using the team to win money, but also to bring good players together and build relationships that way.”

Englestad, who coached Division III basketball at Southern Vermont College when he joined Armored Athlete, said the program’s achievements have provided these opportunities for its players and coaches.

 

“A.J. is a great recruiter and does a terrific job of getting the right pieces to fit,” said Englestad. “It’s tied in to really good players too, and because of the past success people see that Armored Athlete can make a deep push.”

Armored Athlete currently has nine players committed to the team for the TBT 2019 Syracuse Regional. Even though it's the first year that the team will not feature anyone from its original 2015 squad, they bring back stars Terrico White and Murphy Holloway from TBT 2018. 

Mahar said White, one of the best players in Australia, brings an all-around game and valuable experience to the team.

“He had a great year as a professional in Perth where he won a championship and was Finals MVP,” said Mahar. “He can do it all- he can defend, rebound, score, shoot it, and dunk it.”

The rest of Armored Athlete’s roster includes seasoned pros such as John Bryant, Egor Koulechov, and Xavier Rathan-Mayes.

 

Mahar said Rathan-Mayes, who played for Florida State and is currently balling in the Israeli League, could be the team's next NBA star.

“His scoring ability is just off the charts and he’s a better playmaker than people think,” said Mahar. “He could be the best on-ball defender in the entire tournament. His size at the point guard position is something we’re really looking forward to.”

Koulechov played high school basketball for Armored Athlete’s head coach Adam Ross at the Sagemont School in Florida. Like Rathan-Mayes, the former Florida Gator just finished his first year in Israel. 

“Egor is a tremendous shooter and he has such a quick release,” said Mahar. “His rebounding numbers are off the charts, and he’s not scared to get down and dirty.”

Even though this year's Armored Athlete squad is missing some of the Indiana flavor of year's past, Mahar is confident the team will attract TBT fans around the country.

“We’ve always had multiple Indiana guys and hitting the IU fanbase has been our bread and butter,” said Mahar. “But, we do have our loyal followers on Twitter and back in my hometown of Bennington, Vermont.”