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TBT Preview: Milwaukee alumni hope to play for a cause

The Banner Boys are playing to combat the heroin epidemic.

Clay Tucker #30
Clay Tucker hopes to lead a group of Milwaukee alumni on the court in The Basketball Tournament.
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Basketball Tournament has quickly become a way for basketball fans to get their fill of the game during the college and NBA offseasons. With $2 million on the line as a grand prize, it has also drawn the attention of many players worldwide. Teams centered around college basketball alumni and international players make up the bulk of the participants in the tournament, which is aired on ESPN’s networks.

This summer’s tournament will be no exception. But, one team hopes to bring some mid-major flair to the proceedings.

The Banner Boys have formed from a group of Milwaukee Panther basketball alumni. Organized by general manager Ed McCants, the squad consists of some of the best Milwaukee has to offer. McCants says he only had one requirement when picking his group of players: they must have put up a championship banner during their career.

The roster contains representatives from some of Milwaukee’s most successful teams. Players like Clay Tucker and Dylan Page led Milwaukee to the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance back in 2003 and will provide veteran experience gained from lengthy professional careers in Europe. Anthony Hill will help anchor the post and won a Horizon League regular season championship with Milwaukee in 2011. And, from Milwaukee’s most recent NCAA Tournament team in 2014, Jordan Aaron heads a group of younger players just beginning their professional careers.

McCants points to those four players in particular as difference makers. He was a champion at Milwaukee as well, and guided the Panthers to the Sweet Sixteen in 2005. By bringing alumni back together, McCants hopes to show the strength for a program that has seen some struggles recently and turnover in the coaching staff.

“For all of us to be able to come together as alumni shows the recruits and anybody aspiring to be a Panther in the future that we’re a family,” he said. “Once you’re a Panther, you’re always a Panther.”

The roster also includes recent alumni Matt Tiby and Cody Wichmann. Tiby finished his career at Milwaukee in 2016, while Wichmann nearly led the Panthers to a shocking Horizon League Tournament championship as a senior last year. An appearance in The Basketball Tournament would give Horizon League fans another chance to see key players from the league over the past couple of seasons.

But, the Banner Boys hope to play for something more than prize money and school pride. The team has committed to donating $200,000 to to combating the heroin epidemic should they win.

It’s a cause that hits home for some of the players and McCants himself.

Heroin addiction has reached epidemic levels in recent years, particularly in the Midwest where McCants calls home. After concluding his professional career overseas, McCants returned home to Marion, Ohio and saw what heroin has done first-hand.

“People that I knew from high school and junior high weren’t here anymore and I would hear ‘Oh, they overdosed three years ago,’” he said. “Seeing people that you’ve grown up with and they’ve stayed here in Marion and you see people that are dying and you went to school with them, it touches a little to close to home.”

He hopes to use The Basketball Tournament to at least raise awareness for the problem, if not win and contribute money via a donation.

“More than anything, I just want to use ESPN an avenue to create a bigger platform for people that want to create awareness,” McCants said.

However, the Banner Boys have not yet secured a spot in this year’s iteration of The Basketball Tournament. In order to qualify, they must be among the top nine most voted for teams in the Midwest region. As of the time this article was written, they sat in seventh place.

The team must keep up in the voting standings prior to the cutoff date of June 1. Should they receive the required votes, they would compete in the Midwest regionals at Bradley University on July 15 and 16, where games would be aired on ESPN3. If they fail to gain enough votes to stay in the top nine, they would have to either be selected as one of six at-large teams in their region or win a play-in tournament called “The Jamboree” in June.

If you are interested in seeing a team of mid-major alumni play for some upsets while simultaneously supporting a good cause, you can check out the Banner Boys’ team page and cast your vote here. As if those aren’t good enough reasons, the top fans of the winning team also get a cut of the grand prize money. That process is explained here.

Other groups of mid-major alumni are also forming and fighting for spots. Games across all four regions begin in July and will be streamed or aired on an ESPN network. Be sure to follow along with us as we keep you up to speed on how the mid-major teams fare.