Best Virginia is ready to go for year two at The Basketball Tournament, and this year, they want to make a real run when they tip off against Herd That in Columbus, Ohio.
The WVU alumni squad ran into some unfortunate circumstances in their debut last summer. After coasting to a victory to open the tournament, they had a second round matchup with Overseas Elite — the then four-time defending champions. To make it worse, point guard Juwan Staten injured his wrist, which forced the team to scramble their roster for a point guard.
“It was tough for us being our first year in the tournament and having to play those guys,” said John Flowers, a forward and general manager for Best Virginia. “I think we were pretty much in the game the whole game and then they kind of pulled off towards the end.”
This year will be different for both the team and the tournament as a whole. Heading into their second TBT run, Best Virginia made sure to fill any lineup deficiencies they had last summer, specifically in the backcourt. The team added guards like Daxter Miles Jr. and Tarik Phillip to add some depth, while retaining Juwan Staten and Jaysean Paige.
The team’s experience at TBT will be different, as well. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, TBT’s location and format — and even the competition itself — were surrounded by question marks, which made it tough to plan for. In fact, the team didn’t even entirely know if they would make it or not.
“There’s still some uncertainty, you know what I mean? We didn’t know a lot of things until last week. We didn’t know where exactly the tournament was going to be, we didn’t know if fans were going to be allowed, how many tests we were going to have to take. We didn’t know anything really.”
In May, TBT announced the field would be shortened to 24 teams (down from the 64-team field in 2019). A few weeks later, the venue and field were both announced, answering some of the squad’s questions.
Still, there are question marks. Testing will be key for the team this year, as any positive COVID-19 test result will disqualify a team from the entire event.
“We have to take four different tests….We have a melanin test, I think it’s a saliva test…in the next couple of days. We have to take a test as soon as we get there, and then we have to take a test before our first game, and then we have to take a test after that game,” Flowers said. “It’s a lot of tests, but it’s what they have to do.”
They also have some financial issues to work through. Between bringing players in to practice, renting hotel rooms in both Morgantown and Columbus and travel expenses, Flowers admits their expenses were a little higher than expected. Typically, the team gets the backing of sponsors plus help from a GoFundMe account, but this year they are forced to rely on the latter.
After they get through those figurative hoops, Best Virginia will be ready to play ball.
With a year of experience under their belt, most of the team knows the wrinkles to TBT. Fans tuning in to TBT for the first time may notice that the endgame is different from that of typical basketball games due to the so-called “Elam Ending.” Instead of waiting for the clock to run out at the end of the fourth quarter, a target score will be set based on the leading team’s point total at the first dead-ball whistle under the four-minute mark.
“I think it makes the game more competitive. You can’t just sit around and hold the ball, you have to play to a certain score,” said forward Kevin Jones. “I think that ultimately makes the game more competitive and guys are willing to go out there because you see the goal in front of you of what you have to reach. So it makes the game more interesting, I personally like it.”
Unfortunately, experience can only get a team so far in a single-elimination tournament like TBT.
“[Our first year] gave us a little bit of experience, but anything can happen in these tournaments,” Flowers said. “It’s kind of like the NCAA Tournament. We’ll see what happens. Anything can happen.”