Five years ago, the NCAA selection committee elected to leave the Drexel Dragons out of the Big Dance. One season after conference rival VCU validated the Colonial Athletic Association with a Final Four run, Drexel did not hear its name called, despite a 27-6 record and a conference regular season title. The Dragons’ 19-game win streak painfully ended in the league championship game against the Rams in Richmond.
A half decade later, the wounds have still not healed for the 2012 team. This summer, four players from that roster are reuniting to make an overdue and redemptive run though a different basketball tournament — The Basketball Tournament, to be exact.
Chris Fouch, Frantz Massenat, Samme Givens, and Kazembe Abif headline The Blue and Gold Squad and they have their eyes on the $2 million TBT prize. They’ll be joined by 2017 All-CAA big man Rodney Williams and a handful of other Drexel alumni. For a program that has not been to the NCAA Tournament in more than 20 years, it’s an opportunity to galvanize a loyal fanbase and see what might have been possible.
In its fourth season, The Basketball Tournament (TBT) has evolved into an ultra-competitive talent showcase. With a number of college alumni teams and a single-elimination format, it has a very March Madness feel. It also has a plethora of ball players who carry a chip on their shoulder. Two-time defending TBT champ Overseas Elite is comprised of guys so motivated by their omission from NBA rosters, that they teamed up to show what scouts had clearly overlooked.
That competitive fire still drives the Dragons, who will meet up from all corners of the globe to practice and compete at TBT.
“For so many of us Drexel fans who felt that team should have gone to the NCAA Tournament, this is an opportunity to see what a kind of run they can make together,” says Rob Falcone, a Drexel grad who is serving as General Manager of The Blue and Gold Club. “Athletically, our team is in great playing shape and we feel we can match up with anybody.”
A few Dragons initially tested the TBT waters in 2015 with some other Philly-area college players and friends. After an early exit, it was clear that they needed reinforcements and a more rigid practice routine leading up to the event.
The 2017 Blue and Gold Club has four players who are top-25 career scorers in Drexel basketball’s 100-plus year history. Most of the team’s roster is currently playing professionally overseas, refining their games and adding skills they didn’t have in college.
By TBT’s experience metric, these Dragons are one of the more dangerous teams due to their time logged in top international leagues. Fouch and Massenat were two of the best guards to ever play at Drexel. Givens averaged a double-double his junior year and will play up front next to Williams — one of the most talented bigs in the CAA over the past four years. They also feel they have a distinct team advantage.
Former Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint, who was shown the door last season after 15 years at the helm, was known for his defense. It was a methodical, grind-it-out style that served the team well during its heyday. After defense was drilled into their heads for four years, each member’s role in the system is second nature.
“We were caught on our heels in 2015 by how run-and-gun the games were,” Falcone said. “With the team we have now, we’ll run on offense, but being able to slow the pace down to our tempo will be a huge benefit.”
That defense was good enough to dominate the CAA and give VCU all it could handle for 40 minutes. But that was the last time the Dragons were so close to breaking through. No one from that 2012 team ever reached the NCAA Tournament, so they left campus feeling they had unfinished business.
Fans, boosters, and alumni clearly feel the same way, judging by how the Blue & Gold Club is shooting up the fan vote leaderboard -- the easiest way to secure a spot in the TBT field of 64. People still remember how explosive the 2012 team was, and are showing a renewed faith in the program lately.
The players certainly haven’t forgotten the experiences that bind them together, either. Chris Fouch summed up their mentality best on his official TBT player page. The bio reads simply,“Drexel 4 Life.”