My brother called The Basketball Tournament, “not real basketball.” He watched a few games and realized its way more pick-up at the park than organized teams and, frankly, he’s right. I wasn’t really feeling it much either. I barely followed who was on the House of ‘Paign team filled with mostly University of Illinois basketball alums. Personally, I was happy there were actual sports on TV that I kinda cared about with “kinda” being the operative word.
So, I recorded the first game and turned on the second game as background noise while I worked. I knew House of ‘Paign was a low seed and really didn’t think they would win against the defending champs full of Ohio State alums who’ve been playing together for a few years.
I was wrong.
This group of eight guys have put it together in an incredibly short amount of time. What do I see? Hunger.
This team, and let me tell you they are a team as opposed to a bunch of guys thrown together, is pretty impressive. It doesn’t look like there’s an ego among them. It looks like they are a family and that falls squarely on the shoulders of Mike LaTulip as the head coach and GM and Cameron Liss as his assistant. They put this team together.
After knocking off Carmen’s Crew, I started thinking about these players and what this tournament really means to them.
Guys like Leron Black, Michael Finke, Nnanna Egwu, and Malcolm Hill never got an NCAA tournament experience. They were able to play professionally on the international stage and do what they love, but this tournament means something to them.
Then there are the non-Illinois alums: Kyle Vinales, Billy Garrett, Jr., and Mike Daum. These three have been embraced by Illinois basketball fans. They want to win and it shows.
Also, if the goal is to not just win the tournament, but maybe get a shot at the NBA, these guys are going to get some looks. All of them.
Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned my guy. Andres Feliz. Dre. The bulldog. The competitor. He’s been my favorite Illinois basketball player these last couple of years. It’s been a lot of fun watching him play again and it was especially fun to see him take on Aaron Craft and beat him. The competitive fire is turned all the way up to eleven with Dre.
One more thing, after that shot went down and House of ‘Paign defeated the defending champs Dre didn’t immediately run over and celebrate with his team. He went over and shook Aaron Craft’s hand in a display of sportsmanship. That means something too.
Yes, there’s a million dollar prize and yes there might be some NBA scouts looking to bolster their team’s minor league squads. These games are not much more than pick-up basketball, but it is fun. And when an underdog team comes together and beats the defending champs on a Wednesday afternoon, I was happy for these players and coaches. By the end of it, I found myself rooting for this team in a way I never thought I would.
Isn’t that what being a fan is all about?