Where were Luka Garza and his eyebrows selected in the 2021 NBA Draft? It really doesn’t matter. Regardless of whose pine he ends up riding for the next couple of years, the hulking Hawkeye stiff will soon be taking his talents to The Basketball Tournament, a veritable who’s who of has-beens duking it out for a $1 million winner-take-all purse.
It’s tempting to call TBT the ultimate rec league or a sort of Rucker Deluxe. But, no joke, the 64-team tourney — consisting mainly of squads composed of alums from manifold collegiate programs — features some solidly entertaining basketball played by some legitimately accomplished hoopers, including some NBA veterans. To wit, Jonathon Simmons was playing key minutes for the 76ers a mere two years ago. Now he takes his warmups off infrequently for The Money Team, the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-backed TBT squad that’s among eight teams that have advanced to the tournament’s quarterfinals, which get underway Saturday in Dayton, Ohio, and will be televised by ESPN.
The Money Team is an underdog (+525) to win TBT over at DraftKings, one of the few sportsbooks to offer odds on the midsummer classic (sorry, baseball). But DraftKings sportsbook honcho Johnny Avello is glad he got in on the action.
“We try to put up as much content as we can, and when you’ve got something like this that’s really popular, we make sure we have it on the board,” Avello told US Bets. “I’m pretty pleased with what we’re seeing. With the Olympics being the only thing that’s going on besides baseball, people look for something else, and this is something else.”
Mayweather, by all accounts a decent basketball player, is not playing for The Money Team, which Avello concedes is a bit of a disappointment.
“There’s just not enough money in this for Floyd,” he joked. “If it’s not $20 million, he’s not participating.”
‘They’re all surprises’
While some TBT squads have reasonable continuity of personnel, most don’t, which Avello admits makes the tournament quite difficult to handicap. When asked which of the remaining octet he’s most surprised by, Avello said, “I think they’re all surprises. It’s a hard thing to gauge initially. It’s not easy to initially make odds on a future book. You get better at it as you watch these teams play. I think we’ve got a fairly good handle on it now.”
If you haven’t heard of the collegiate powerhouse that is the University of Buffalo Bulls, that just means you’re normal. But if there is a true surprise in TBT’s Elite Eight, it’s the aptly named Blue Collar U., a team comprised of Buffalo alumni that was seeded sixth in the Columbus (Ohio) region. Led by G-League guard C.J. Massinburg of the Long Island Nets, the working-class crew (+500 to win it all) should be narrowly favored to beat The Money Team on Saturday.
In another quarterfinal, perennial contender and top seed Sideline Cancer (+300) will take on the sixth-seeded upstarts of Team 23 (+900 longshots), which is led by former Fort Wayne Mad Ant Walt Lemon Jr. The 6’4” guard currently plays pro ball in Israel and also had cups of coffee with the New Orleans Pelicans and Chicago Bulls, but when you get an opportunity to mention the Fort Wayne Mad Ants, you mention the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
Another of Saturday’s quarterfinals will pit Florida TNT (+900) against the AfterShocks (+525), a team mainly made up of ex-Wichita State Shockers. It’s deeply confusing as to why former New York Knick super-sub Ron Baker is occupying the role of general manager instead of dishing dimes to balding ballers like Conner Frankamp, but such is life.
Travis Diener: the ultimate Wisconsinite
Saturday’s marquee matchup, however, will pit Boeheim’s Army (Syracuse alumnae, +330) against the Marquette Golden Eagles (+260 faves). If The Basketball Tournament, which began in 2014, has a bona fide legend, it’s 39-year-old NBA vet Travis Diener, who sunk the winning basket in last year’s championship game for the Golden Eagles.
TRAVIS DIENER FOR $1 MILLION!!!!!!!!!!!
— TBT (@thetournament) July 15, 2020
But it was a post-game interview Diener gave in 2018 that cemented his status as perhaps the prototypical Wisconsin Man. After splashing yet another game-cinching jumper to allow the Golden Eagles to advance, Diener was asked how he planned to prepare for the next game.
“Sleep, drink some beer, that’s about it,” he responded.
Relatable, to put it mildly.
"Sleep…drink some beer. That's about it." –@DienerTravis
Cheers, Travis. Cheers! 😂🍻 pic.twitter.com/SiW81C3UHG
— TBT (@thetournament) July 29, 2018
Photo of Conner Frankamp: Orlando Ramirez/USA Today