ESPN will have live coverage of the semifinals and finals of The Basketball Tournament (TBT) presented by Jack Link’s Jerky this weekend from Fordham University’s legendary Rose Hill Gym in New York. The single-elimination, five-on-five, winner-take-all, open-application tournament for $1 million started with 317 teams applying for the 97-team field. Now it’s down to the final four.
Play-by-play commentator Mark Jones, analyst Fran Fraschilla and ESPN Basketball Insider Jeff Goodman will call both semifinals Saturday on ESPN – Team 23 versus Ant Alumni, 2 p.m. ET, and Overseas Elite versus City of Gods, 4 p.m. – and the championship on Sunday (3 p.m.).
For Fraschilla, the TBT is just the latest opportunity for him to satisfy his Basketball Jones. A college hoops game and studio analyst since 2003, Fraschilla remains connected to the sport year-round. In addition to scouting U.S. and international players leading up to NBA Draft, the former college head coach recently called tournament action at the Pan Am Games in Toronto for ESPN. He previews The Basketball Tournament’s championship weekend with Front Row.
The Basketball Tournament is such a unique event. What do you think about this kind of open invite, winner-take-all tournament for $1 million?
It’s a great basketball event. Guys who played together in college, or play summer league basketball or grew up together, all of a sudden these groups of players get to put teams together to compete for a million dollars. It’s really cool. I’m amazed at the number of players in this weekend’s semifinals and finals that are guys I have watched play basketball before, either in college or at the NBA level. This is a high level of basketball.
– Fran Fraschilla on one of the stars of The Basketball Tournament
Discuss the caliber of players on the remaining TBT teams.
There’s a number of former NBA players and many that are still playing at a high level in Europe. Former Maryland great James Gist is making over seven figures playing in Greece, where he’s one of the more accomplished players in the Euroleague. Pops Mensah-Bonsu, who has played in the NBA and in Europe, is still going strong. D.J. Kennedy, who had a cup of coffee with the Cleveland Cavaliers, is still playing at a high level. There are some really outstanding players in this tournament. I venture to say there’s still a handful that could probably make NBA rosters.
Do you have a good anecdote about one or two players who will compete in the semifinals?
[Overseas Elite’s] Errick McCollum, who is the brother of Portland Trailblazers guard CJ McCollum, led the world in scoring last year, averaging almost 40 points a game in the Chinese Basketball Association, the same league that just produced NBA lottery pick Emmanuel Mudiay. [McCollum] had 82 points in a game last year. Along with Stephon Marbury and a few others, he’s considered one of the best players in China.
Although he’s not playing a big role on City of Gods, [former Georgetown standout] Michael Sweetney was a lottery pick in the 2003 NBA Draft with the Knicks. He’s on that roster, along with former lottery pick Dermarr Johnson. There are names that are going to jump out at people. One of the coolest things about this tournament is that the 2014 NBA D League champion Fort Wayne (Ind.) Mad Ants actually has an alumni team in here with virtually every player on the roster that was a part of that championship.
How do you prepare to call these games compared to a college basketball or other assignment?
More Google searches than normal. I like to be very prepared. This takes it to another level because in some cases we’re talking about very good players who have not been in the national spotlight in a few years.
The semis and finals are at Fordham’s Rose Hill Gym in New York. What kind of atmosphere do you expect?
It should be great. Rose Hill is the oldest Division I basketball facility still in use. It’s got great history and it’s the perfect size venue. I expect it to be an incredible atmosphere. Both the players and the fans bring great passion and energy. To culminate The Basketball Tournament in New York City is fitting because it is the ‘city game.’
This has been a particularly busy summer for you. How much do you enjoy these college basketball offseason assignments?
I don’t like to stay idle during the summer. In one way shape or form, especially with my ESPN opportunities, I get to cover the NBA Combine, the NBA Draft, the Pan Am Games, The Basketball Tournament and some FIBA competition. My job has turned into a 12-month-a-year job. But ‘job’ is a misnomer because I don’t consider this work. It’s a complete labor of love to go from college basketball to various forms of basketball in the spring and summertime.