MOSCOW, Idaho – With the closest thing to basketball in the era of COVID 19 being games of H-O-R-S-E played remotely and broadcast by ESPN, the 6-year-old The Basketball Tournament was more than ready for its star turn when games tipped off Saturday.
The $1 million winner-take-all format, in normal times, would be a niche event heavily overshadowed by March Madness, the NBA Finals and the Olympics.
Now, it’s the only show in town – the first nationally televised basketball tournament since the pandemic brought sports to a halt in spring. ESPN probably enjoyed an audience out of keeping with the nature of the TBT when a team of Marshall University alumni, Herd That, tipped the Peoria All-Stars 80-65 in a first-round game Sunday morning.
“It was definitely a fun experience. The first basketball on live TV. It was impactful for me,” former Idaho Vandals Trevon Allen said.
Channel-surfing Vandals fans who found TBT were no doubt surprised and delighted to see Allen score 26 points and grab eight rebounds for the All-Stars, taking over a game for his team as he did for the Vandals as a senior this past season. Allen’s participation in TBT in part resembled an ad hoc run at an open gym but was also an opportunity for an aspiring pro player to dip a toe in that life.
“There were a ton of athletes, ex-pro players. I wanted to use it as a way to stay on top of my game,” Allen said of TBT.
He and the All-Stars came riding into TBT on a whirlwind. The team, built around Bradley University alums, was a last-minute replacement for another squad, Playing for Jimmy V, headlined by former Gonzaga star Josh Perkins. It had to drop out when one of its players tested positive for coronavirus.
Allen got involved when Vandals teammate A.J. Youngman asked him if he’d like to play for his dad’s team. Youngman was a prep star at Peoria’s Manual High School before finding his way to Moscow as a UI redshirt this past season, and his father was an All-Stars assistant coach.
“They were putting together a team as fast as possible,” Allen said.
It reminded Allen of past experiences gathering a team on the fly to play in Native American tribal tournaments.
He tested negative for coronavirus June 24, flew from Spokane to Chicago June 26 and spent a night with Youngman’s family before heading to Columbus, Ohio, site of TBT. In Ohio, he spent six days in quarantine and had to pass four more virus tests in five days before the tournament. Peoria coach and general manager Willie Williams had done some homework on Allen’s Idaho career.
“The team kind of bought in to what I could do,” Allen said.
With only eight players on the All-Stars, Williams asked Allen if he could play the whole game. Allen agreed.
“I got tired, but I pushed through,” he said.
The first time the team played together was when the TV lights went on for the game against Herd That.
His experience at TBT gives Allen useful insight he could pass on to NBA players trying to restart their season in Orlando, Florida.
TBT was played at Columbus’ Nationwide Arena, and the players lived in a tiny universe that included the arena, a nearby convention center and hotel. Allen said he saw one block of one street in Columbus, and in six days of quarantine at the hotel before the tournament the team stayed inside.
Winning the $1 million was always going to be a heavy lift, and Allen said he barely thought of that. The All-Stars couldn’t cut into Herd That’s comfortable second-half lead and were eliminated in the first round. But Allen was the only team member to put up double-digit points, and Williams invited him to play in next year’s TBT.
“He’s really interested in having me back,” Allen said.
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