For a moment, The Basketball Tournament founder Jonathan Mugar was worried. The tournament he had been envisioning for years was a few minutes from tipping off, and one of the teams was late. And it wasn’t just any team. It was one of the tournament’s signature teams—a team expected to draw fans and compete for the championship and the $500,000 that went with it.
“I was wondering, is this going to work?” Mugar said. “Maybe no one is going to show up.” Then, with six minutes to go before tipoff, former Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson trotted out onto the court. “From that moment I kind of new, ‘All right, this is going to happen,’” Mugar said.
And it did. The Basketball Tournament, which tipped off June 6 in Philadelphia, concluded with the championship game—confetti celebration and all—on Saturday in Boston. The title game between The Notre Dame Fighting Alumni and Team Barstool was televised on ESPN3 and drew a packed crowd to Boston University’s Case Gymnasium. After his team took the championship with a 72-68 win, Notre Dame’s Ryan Ayers likened the atmosphere to a Big East Tournament game.
“You had both fan bases going back and forth,” Ayers said. “Their families were there. Our families were there, so it was definitely like a college atmosphere.”
“We could probably give some college teams fits though,” Ayers’ teammate Chris Thomas interjected. “This is a professional game.” Indeed, from both the environment and the level of competition, it was. The top two teams that competed in the final for the $500,000 prize had rosters lined with guys who have made a living off basketball—including NBA guys like Barstool Sport’s guards (former Duke star) Dahntay Jones and (ex-Seton Hall standout) Andre Barrett.
In the raucous building, the players could hear the fans in the stands. One supporter making his voice heard was Notre Dame (the real Notre Dame) coach Mike Brey. “I heard him say, get the ball to [Tyrone Nash] and move,” Thomas said. “He was into it just like we were.” Even though the longtime coach from South Bend wasn’t the one calling the plays on Saturday night, he had his fingerprints all over the team’s victory.
Most of the guys suiting up for the Fighting Alumni hadn’t played with each other for years (if ever), but it was hard to tell at Saturday’s championship, a game in which the Notre Dame alums committed just eight turnovers and assisted on 14-of-26 field goals. “Coach Brey’s a huge part of who we are as players and people,” Thomas said.
Brey didn’t get to see the tournament’s opening weekend, but he liked the report he got from those in attendance. “Everybody’s that’s watched them said, which was very flattering for me to hear, they played the way they played when they played for us,” Brey said moments before tipoff on Saturday. The night before the championship, Brey took his former players out to dinner. “It’s really powerful,” Brey said. “You know, I got goose bumps last night being around these guys. I mean they made me look like I could coach for a number of years.”
He might have to reason to be back in the crowd next year. Mugar wants to make The Basketball Tournament an annual event. If it does, you can expect the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni to be back—maybe with a few additions. The name Luke Harangody—the 2008 Big East Player of the Year—was tossed around, in addition to more old teammates. “We’re gonna have to have a shoot-off or play-in or something,” Thomas said.
Next year, Jonathan Mugar shouldn’t have anything to worry about before tipoff.