Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Padding the Stats: On TBT, Summer League and Media Day Representatives

July 20, 2022

The Basketball Tournament

I’ve been a fan of The Basketball Tournament (TBT) for several years now. The winner-take all tournament featuring former college stars not in the NBA is a great mix of quality hoops, nostalgia and novelty with the Elam Ending.

After watching TBT on TV the last handful of years, I finally got the chance to attend the event in person as Josh Jones and the Omaha Blue Crew (a Creighton alumni team) brought a regional to Omaha. 

Gutter Cat Gang, Team Arkansas (Arkansas alumni), Always Us (Oregon alumni), Jackson Underdawgs, Team Overtime (a team featuring four high school-aged players from Overtime Elite including projected NBA lottery picks Amen and Ausar Thompson), Da Guys STL and The Cru were the other six teams that traveled to Omaha to compete for a trip to the quarterfinals at D.J. Sokol Arena on Creighton’s campus.

Top-seeded Gutter Cat Gang beat second-seeded Team Arkansas in the regional final on Tuesday night. The main event was on Saturday night, however, as the Blue Crew faced the Thompson twins and Team Overtime in front of a sold-out crowd. The atmosphere was terrific as the home team pulled out a win in a tight game, and the turnout was strong for the regional semifinals as well as Team Arkansas rallied to beat the Blue Crew in the Elam Ending.

This was the Blue Crew’s second year in the tournament; they won their first game last year as well before falling in the second round down in Wichita. Hopefully the Omaha regional becomes an annual tradition, because it’s a fun event to get local sports fans through the summer.

If TBT does continue to return to Omaha, I’d love to see the regional grow even more as well. There’s more than enough room for a Nebraska alumni team to join the mix, or even an Omaha alumni squad (which Omaha Central and UNO alumnus Tra-Deon Hollins called for on Twitter).

Summer League Summary

After 16 days, the NBA’s summer leagues finally wrapped up, and it was a bit of a mixed bag for former Huskers.

Let’s start with Bryce McGowens, Charlotte’s second-round pick who signed a two-way contract with the franchise. He started all five of the Hornets’ games in Las Vegas, averaging 14.6 points on 33.8% from the field (42.9% from 3) and 73.9% from the foul line, 4.0 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.6 turnovers in 30.6 minutes per game.

McGowens’ run through Vegas was reminiscent of his lone season in Lincoln: the highs were quite high, displaying his significant potential, but ultimately he struggled to play efficiently on a consistent basis. 

The highlight was a 24-point performance that saw him shoot 7-of-10 from the field including 5-of-6 from deep. In fact, he shot well from 3 in three of his five games overall, and he got to the foul line at a decent rate as well. 

McGowens had a strong debut, finishing with 17 points, six rebounds and five assists, but he followed that up with a 2-for-14 shooting performance and also shot 4-of-18 in game four. He had trouble finishing around the basket, which will likely continue to be an issue until he continues to add strength to his frame. His assist-to-turnover ratio was even, but I was impressed with his passing reads at times even if he’s teammates didn’t always hit the shot.

Overall, McGowens showed the scoring potential that interested Charlotte enough to trade up for him as well as the weaknesses that led to him falling into the second round of the draft. His next opportunity to impress the Charlotte brass will likely be the preseason, and he now has two-and-a-half months to hit the weight room and continue polishing his skills to get ready for it.

Unfortunately, his brother Trey did not receive the same kind of opportunity. The undrafted guard played in just two of the Los Angeles Clippers’ five games, logging just under eight minutes in garbage time and totaling one missed shot, one rebound, one assists, one steal and one turnover.

Dalano Banton, on the other hand, was given the keys to the offense for Toronto in his second Summer League. And put up 16.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and 2.0 steals in 29.0 minutes per game in the Raptors’ first four games before sitting out game five with Toronto’s other key players.

Banton had a promising rookie season for a second-round pick, playing in 64 games for a playoff team as a utility guard off the bench. He averaged 1.5 assists to 1.3 buckets with the big club, but in his brief stint in the G League he put up 26.3 points per game on 50% shooting. He showed a similar level of aggression in Vegas, and perhaps the most encouraging part was his 6-for-13 showing from 3-point range. He shot 25.5% from deep as a rookie, and the jumper has always been the swing skill for the lengthy playmaking point guard. Unfortunately, the drawback of his aggression was a gaudy turnover average — 4.8.

Finally, former Husker James Palmer Jr. got plenty of chances with the Utah Jazz, playing in six of the team’s eight games between Vegas and the Salt Lake City Summer League, but he shot just 30.3% from the field  and averaged more turnovers (2.2) than assists (1.3) while scoring 8.8 points per game.

Big Red Reps

Nebraska announced the players who will be representing the program at Big Ten Media Days on Monday, and I don’t think any of them came as much of a surprise. Edge rusher Garrett Nelson, tight end Travis Vokolek and cornerback Quinton Newsome will accompany Scott Frost to Indianapolis.

First, Nelson is a no-brainer. He’s coming off a strong third season at Nebraska and is poised to take another leap this year. He’s put in the work throughout his time in the program to move up the depth chart and earn his teammates’ respect, and he isn’t afraid to make his voice heard in the locker room. He’s a terrific interview as well, one who speaks his mind but isn’t afraid to mix in a little humor and share his unique personality with the fans and reporters.

Austin Allen drew most of the buzz at the tight end position last year, and with good reason — he set program records and earned the Big Ten Tight End of the Year award. But whenever Sean Beckton spoke about his room, he was sure to include Vokolek’s name right alongside Allen’s when it came to leadership. His on-field production has been minimal since transferring into the program from Rutgers, but that starting tight end spot belongs to him now that Allen has moved on to the NFL and I’m looking forward to seeing what he does with it.

If there’s one that didn’t seem like a lock, it’s Newsome. Either of those starting inside linebackers seem like reasonable choices, and perhaps Ty Robinson could have been in the mix as well. Instead, the coaches went with their only returning starter in the secondary. There’s a lot of leadership to replace in that back end with the departures of Cam Taylor-Britt, Deontai Williams and Marquel Dismuke, and if Newsome can fill that void from a vocal standpoint while also finding a bit more consistency on the field himself, Nebraska should be in good shape there.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see any or all of these three names pop up once again when it comes time to announce team captains. 

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