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Padding the Stats: Basketball Returns with TBT

June 17, 2020

Tuesday brought some bad news for basketball fans in Omaha.

The Basketball Tournament, the annual summer winner take-all tournament featuring some of the best American players outside the NBA, is taking place next month despite the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the normally 64-team field has been cut to 24 and the bracket was revealed on Tuesday.

Omaha’s Finest, a newly-formed team filled with recognizable names to fans of Nebraska high school basketball, was hoping to make its debut. Former Omaha Central Eagle and Omaha Maverick Tra’Deon Hollins served as general manager and put together a team with some of the best players to come out of Omaha in recent years.

Hollins started with his Central teammates: Akoy Agau (Louisville/Georgetown/SMU), KJ Scott (Texas Southern/Mount St. Mary’s), Nick Billingsley (UTSA) and Tre’Shawn Thurman (Omaha/Nevada). The team also features another former Maverick and an Omaha Benson alumnus in CJ Carter.

Omaha Benson grad Tyron Criswell (Nevada), Ralston product Greg Smith (Colorado State), Omaha Gross standout and Division II national champion Dylan Travis (Florida Southern) and Omaha North alumnus Justin Patton (Creighton) round out the team with Omaha Central legend Eric Behrens serving as head coach. Patton was a first-round NBA pick while Hollins and Thurman have played in the NBA G League, and all of them grew up playing together.

Unfortunately, despite relentless campaigning and plenty of fan support (including the eighth-most fans accumulated on the TBT website), Omaha’s Finest was not among the 24 teams selected for the tournament.

According to the TBT website, there were over 80 teams eligible and just 24 spots, so making the field wasn’t going to be easy by any stretch. Omaha’s Finest was a new team and it doesn’t have any big names nationally. But the frustrating part is I couldn’t find anywhere on its website or social media what the criteria were for being selected. Hard to make a field goal when you have no idea where the goal posts even are.

Putting that frustration aside, Hollins said they’re planning to try again next year when the tournament hopefully returns to normal with a full 64-team field. I haven’t watched religiously, but it’s been something that’s caught my attention throughout its existence and seeing it grow the way it has is pretty cool. I’ve been hoping to see a local team and I’m glad Hollins at least gave it a go.

But for this year, people in Nebraska will have to settle for rooting for one of our own: Mike Daum. The Kimball product, South Dakota State alumnus and 3,000-point scorer agreed to play with House of ‘Paign, a team comprised of mostly Illinois alumni. As the stakes continue to rise, it seems like teams are getting more and more aggressive with their recruiting efforts.

Some other familiar names would be one-time Husker Andrew White III playing with Boeheim’s Army (Syracuse alumni), former Creighton standout Maurice Watson Jr. with Team Brotherly Love and DeAndre Kane, a stud point guard for Fred Hoiberg during his Iowa State days. There’s also a team made up of players from around the Big Ten, called Big X.

ESPN will televise the entire tournament with the first round set for July 4 and 5. That makes TBT the official return of basketball to TV as the NBA is still working out the details of its return which wouldn’t begin until late in July anyway.

If you’ve been in need of a hoops fix lately, give The Basketball Tournament a shot. It’s a fun tournament with a lot of recognizable names. Last year, Carmen’s Crew (Ohio State alumni) took home the title after four straight championships by Overseas Elite. Those are the top two seeds in this year’s field.

TBT is also known for making the Elam Ending famous. If you’re not aware of what that is, the NBA adopted it for the 2020 All-Star Game. It eliminates the need for intentional fouling or running clock late in a game by establishing a target score during the fourth quarter that a team must reach in order to win, guaranteeing that every game ends on a made shot. It’s certainly different, but it also makes things a lot more interesting late in games.

If you’re like me and are seriously jonesing for any kind of basketball, TBT is a perfect reintroduction into sports. The tournament will crown its champion on July 14 and I’m planning to be in front of my TV watching.

And hopefully next year, I’ll have a team to root for as well.

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