What kind of event condenses the passion of March Madness and the excitement of playoff basketball into one intense June evening in a Boston gym? Financial backers from Boston sought to find the answer to that question and struck gold with a concept simply called The Basketball Tournament, awarding a $500,000 cash prize to the winner of a 32-team single elimination tournament which started in Philadelphia a month ago.
The rules for The Tournament were simple: anybody can enter (as long as they're 18 years old) and the winner walks away with everything. The basic rules for entry were simple and easy to follow and The Tournament accrued over 100 entries into the first-ever tournament of its kind. Wake Forest alumnus Justin Gray was a member of semifinalist Big Apple Basketball, who finished just one win shy of competing in the final, and the field featured several former NBA players, a large number of college players, and at least one team (Eberlein Drive) who had multiple players who didn't participate in basketball past middle school.
The culminating event took place at Case Gym on the campus of Boston University and pitted a team of former Notre Dame players against the hometown favored Barstool Sports, who had a roster including former NBAers Dahntay Jones and Josh Boone. Barstool got off to a quick start in the first half, but Notre Dame worked hard to keep the game in reach and for the majority of the first 18 minutes (format was two 18 minute halves) the game went back and forth.
Fueled by six quick points to start the second half by Tyrone Nash, the Irish seized a 41-40 lead and stretched the lead out to as much as nine in the middle of the second half before a furious rally by Team Barstool fell just short as they failed on multiple chances to knot the game in the final minute.
The scene at Case Gym was roughly equivalent to a mid-major conference title game. Barstool Sports brought around a thousand fans and at times throughout the game shook the entire gym with their raucous chants. This passion was similarly exhibited by current Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey who made the trip to Boston to pull on his former players. On multiple occasions Brey slapped the media table with excitement and barked out orders to the Fighting Alumni who were almost certainly taken back to their playing days under the long-term Notre Dame coach upon hearing his distinctive voice.
As the seconds ticked down and the clock struck zero, leaving the Irish with a slim four-point margin of victory, Brey hopped out of his chair, jumped over the media table and was the first person on the court to jump up and down with his former players as the confetti fell from the ceiling. Recalling not only every player's name on the squad, but also recounting their tendencies from when they were in school, Brey was easily swept up in the passion of the Fighting Alumni playing for $500,000 in a uniquely styled tournament.
After the game the players had only positive things to say about the new tournament.
"It's definitely a great event," said Torin Francis, a Boston native and 2006 graduate of Notre Dame. "I followed the games (in Philadelphia) and checked all the box scores. I was excited for the team to make the championship so I could get a chance to contribute." And contribute he did, recording 8 points and 5 rebounds in 16 minutes of action in the deciding game.
For a lot of these guys, The Basketball Tournament provided an opportunity to meet back up with former players and compete for a chance at a substantial amount of money - pressure that is almost unlike any other these guys have faced, but that playing under Coach Brey was certain to assist with.
"It was great playing together. It was just a great experience overall," said Ryan Ayers, a 2009 Notre Dame graduate. "From game one we thought we had a great opportunity to win the whole thing and we did." Ayers contributed 15 points and 5 rebounds in the title, with 13 of his 15 points coming in the critical second half.
The overall experience of The Basketball Tournament was phenomenal, from the way the organizers handled the players, the press, and the facilities to the ability to get the championship game broadcasted. A big boost for the Tournament was the visibility it received from being aired on ESPN3 to a national audience, only further solidifying the Tournament as a legitimate endeavor. While the payout this year was $500,000, the financial backers are eager to continue the tournament in the future and perhaps even increase the payouts.
Ultimately Chris Thomas from the Fighting Alumni summed it up best. "We wanted to win a ship, NBA or not, that was the goal. And it feels good."
Congratulations to the Fighting Alumni for winning the first title. Congratulations to Barstool Sports for their run to the finals, but perhaps most of all, congratulations to The Basketball Tournament for putting together an exciting basketball event in June to keep the game on the forefront of fan's minds.
While watching the championship game, I started thinking about what kind of team Wake Forest could put together to participate in this thing. There are a plethora of graduates who are playing, or have played overseas who might be interested and perhaps for 2015 a handful of guys could be coaxed to Philadelphia for a jam-packed weekend of basketball, culminating in a remarkable opportunity to win a considerable amount of money on a big-time stage. What are the readers thoughts on what kind of team Wake could put together for this event, and who would you want to see on a Wake Forest Alumni team in the 2015 tournament?