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The Basketball Tournament Breathes Life Into Summer Ball

You couldn’t write a better storybook finish. That’s a cliché phrase that’s tossed around far too often, but there isn’t a more accurate way to describe the ending of The Basketball Tournament.

The 97-team field was dwindled down to just two, the No. 3 seed Overseas Elite, stacked with former college standouts and NBA hopefuls vs the No. 13 seed Team 23, a team with mostly unknowns, with all the odds against them. It was a narrative that TBT founder Jonathan Mugar could only dream of when he created the tournament, which is essentially the biggest “my crew against your crew” winner takes all basketball tournament.

But there’s a catch: Only one crew leaves with the $1 million prize, with every penny of the pot going to the winner, leaving the losers with nothing.

The finals aired on ESPN, making it feel all the more epic, and of course, it would come down to the final possession.

Team 23, who scratched and clawed their way into the finals by playing team basketball had the ball in their hands with under 10 seconds left, trailing by two. Their best player, Davin White, who had a game-high 34 points, was smothered and denied from the ball, so all Team 23 had left was a prayer.

It was a frantic, hectic, and above all, exhilarating final seconds in an entertaining game from start to finish. Team 23 would get an off-balanced heave off with the hopes of seeing their underdog story come full circle, but it wasn’t off in time. It was like Friday Night Lights, where the team everyone’s rooting for comes up painstakingly short, only this time it cost them $1 million. It doesn’t mean we didn’t enjoy the ride there.

The Basketball Tournament comprised of 125 players with NBA or D-League experience total, with players like Nate Robinson, Royce White, Mike Bibby, and the White Mamba himself, Brian Scalabrine taking the field. The tournament was a who’s who of sorts, with some blasts from the pasts and some “wait, I swear I remember that guy from somewhere” mixed in.

The champions, Overseas Elite, were led by an assortment of well-known players, including former Texas standout and top prospect Myck Kabongo, C.J. McCollum’s older brother Errick McCollum, who dropped 82 in China last year, former St. John’s standout D.J. Kennedy, and all-time NCAA three-pointer leader Travis Bader. As cool as it was to see former and current fringe NBA players, nothing beat seeing no names emerge as stars.

No one outplayed former Cal State Northridge player Davin White.

White has spent his entire ten-year career overseas, and after watching him play in the tournament, it’s fair to wonder why. He’s just 6’1,” but he scored on just about anyone and everyone, creating his own shot off the dribble with ease and showing off a sweet jumper. He was confident and led an undermanned 13 seed to the finals, hitting a late three-pointer and clutch free throws to keep the game close.

The dynamic of NBA hopefuls vs college flameouts, or guys who never even sniffed the NBA, is what made the tournament so special. It created different dynamics and a different style of play that made each team unique.

Overseas Elite were perimeter oriented, with Kabongo showcasing the blazing speed and ferocity that once made NBA teams drool over his potential, and McCollum added a scoring burst and outside threat to make their team unstoppable.

Still, they were a team made of random players from all over the world who really didn’t know each other, so there were plenty of turnovers, miscues and an overall lack of chemistry that gave Team 23 an opening.

Team 23 ran actual plays and played a brand of team basketball that would make Coach K crack a smile. They also had some big time athletes.

It was a fast paced and physical game that started to unravel late, with Kabongo getting testy and throwing a punch (that luckily didn’t land) in the closing minutes.

It was amazing watching what the money meant to both teams and each player on the court. It’s no surprise Kabongo had something to fight for.

The basketball was played at such a high level that it makes you wonder how many of those guys could be on an NBA team if they simply had a chance.

The Basketball Tournament was the definition of winner take all basketball, with 96 teams, in the end, playing for nothing. With so much on the line and a surprising amount of talent across the tournament, it was the most exciting basketball of the summer since the NBA Finals, bar none.

The tournament still needs some tinkering, playing with a shorter NBA shot clock and using NBA rules instead of college might do the trick, but in year two, The Basketball Tournament was a wild success. With even more former NBA players and no-names emerging as stars, and possibly even more teams and more money on the line, next year’s tournament could be even better.

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