Since its inception in the summer of 2014, The Basketball Tournament has gradually staked its claim of the sports calendar. With only baseball and preseason football to compete with, TBT has carved out a niche as a refuge for basketball fans in need of something that isn’t focused around the NBA’s content farm news cycle.
The quality of basketball in TBT is as good as it gets for what is essentially a tournament of pickup basketball. Rosters are filled with talented players. There are guys who have built successful careers overseas. Almost every roster has players with G-League experience. And some rosters even have players that have had a cup of tea in the NBA, sometimes as recently as the season prior.
However, the biggest appeal to college basketball fans — mid-major fans in particular — is getting an opportunity to see the players that were integral to their favorite program’s history play real, competitive basketball once again.
Mid-major basketball fans exist in a unique space in the college basketball world. Save for a select few programs, these schools are often ignored for 80 percent of the season. The national media isn’t devoting hours of screen time and coverage for schools that a large majority of viewers don’t particularly care about.
Mid-major basketball fans have a connection to their teams that isn’t often found at high majors. Sure, you have your bluebloods like Duke, Kentucky or Indiana whose fans breed their own brand of insanity. But by and large, mid-major fans just want their team to be recognized and included in that same breath.
And when they make it on the biggest stage and deliver, players from these teams become immortalized within their fanbases’ hearts. Guys like Thomas Walkup, K.J. Maura, T.J. Sorrentine, and countless others are always going be the ones that get remembered.
TBT has continued to grow over the years, and alumni teams seem to grow with it. This year’s field featured alumni teams from Iona, Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga, Bradley, Siena, Old Dominion, VCU, and Air Force among the mid-major ranks. These provide perfect opportunities for mid-major fans to reminisce on the memories that these players have provided over the years.
A Gonzaga fan can turn on Few Good Men’s TBT game and see Casey Calvary manning the paint. You don’t think that this comes to mind?
For an Indiana fan like me, seeing Christian Watford running up and down the floor instantly brings back memories of where I was when he hit the game-winner to stun Kentucky. Yes, I know he’s not from a mid-major, but the premise stands.
That leads me to Jimmer.
Jimmer Fredette is one of the most entertaining players we’ve seen in college basketball this decade. He was Trae Young before Trae Young. His senior campaign was one of the most dominant seasons that college basketball has seen in recent memory. He delivered highlights each and every night. His jumpers from astronomical range were intoxicating.
Jimmer, for the most part, has been off the radar for college basketball fans. After bouncing around the NBA for a few years, he’s spent the last few years in China. But for a few weeks this summer, Jimmer brought the show to TBT. And he really brought it.
Jimmer was giving vintage Jimmer performances during TBT. Watching him, it was hard not to think about the time he scored 43 on Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State. Each pullup from deep presented images of his 52-point outburst in the Mountain West Tournament. It was Jimmer being Jimmer, just on a different stage.
Team Fredette found themselves trailing by double digits in the second half on Thursday night to Eberlein Drive in the semifinals of TBT. I, like many others that were tuning in, hoped that Jimmer could somehow deliver once again. And then it started to happen.
Oh God yes that’s the stuff.
That’s what makes TBT so great for college basketball fans. They get to see performances from stars of the past in an atmosphere that has a college feel to it. Twitter was abuzz with people losing their minds over Jimmer. Almost seven years after he left college, Jimmer was still bringing it for those that tuned in every night to see what he would do next.
Team Fredette would go on to lose the game, thus eliminating Jimmer from TBT. But the chance to see him do what he does was more than enough for fans. For the players, the best part of TBT is always going to be an opportunity to showcase their games and have a chance to win their share of a $2 million prize. But for the fans, it’s a chance to revisit old friends and relive the memories that they made in years past.
TBT will conclude on Friday night with the championship game between Overseas Elite and Eberlein Drive. However, as TBT continues to grow next year and the following years, we’ll continue to get to see our favorite college basketball players and think about all the good times that we’ve had together.