Is this the year that GaelNation finally makes it past the second round at The Basketball Tournament? The Iona alumni team has been one of the staples of TBT the past few seasons, but they have yet to make a deep run.
In 2017, the Gaels shocked TBT mainstay City of Basketball Gods in the first round. They then followed it up by falling to the Syracuse alumni team, Boeheim’s Army, despite scoring 100 points. In 2018, the Gaels again reached the century mark in their first-round game against Sideline Cancer, but couldn’t get passed Armored Athlete in the next round.
Hitting 100 points is easier when you play Iona’s trademarked space-and-pace style of basketball. Because the team is made up almost entirely of guys who played in New Rochelle at some point during their careers, they’re all well-acquainted with the system. Even a player like Mike Poole, who most people might associate with Rutgers, finished his career with the Gaels.
The issue this year is that once again GaelNation’s draw is not easy. As the 5 seed in the Syracuse region, they’ll take on Fancy on Friday, July 26 at 5 p.m. in their first game. If the Gaels survive that contest, they’ll most likely have to play against the region’s No. 1 seed — and heavy favorite — Boeheim’s Army.
Maybe GaelNation will be out for revenge. Here’s a quick look at the roster.
Steven Burtt, Jr. is an Iona legend after scoring more than 2,000 points during his four-year career in New Rochelle. He and his father are two leading scorers in Iona history. The younger Burtt has gone on to a long and distinguished international career that has spanned the entire globe. Last year, Burtt averaged 16.5 points during GaelNation’s two games.
While he only played one season with the Gaels after coming over as a graduate transfer from UMass, Zach Lewis made an instant impact in his new digs. The former Canisius Golden Griffin returned to the MAAC and scored 9.2 points per game on 34 percent shooting from three in 2017-18 during his one season with the Gaels.
Rickey McGill was the consummate winner at Iona, as the Gaels have reached the NCAA Tournament each of the past four seasons. Every Iona fan knows that McGill was the heart that drove the Gaels this past season, averaging 15.8 points and 4.8 assists per game while playing especially strong defense. Still, despite all of the success McGill and his team had in the MAAC, the Gaels never won a game in the NCAA Tournament. That’s why he’s playing in The Basketball Tournament.
The only player on the GaelNation roster who didn’t play any minutes at Iona is forward Javier Carter. The former South Alabama big man led the Sun Belt in blocks in 2012 and has been playing around the globe since his collegiate career ended. He should add another athletic, 6-foot-9 body to throw around against bigger lineups.
Jordan Washington averaged 16.2 ppg during his two seasons at Iona after transferring from Indian Hills Community College. He has a big body at 6-foot-8, but can also get up and down the floor in a hurry. Washington was invited to the Portsmouth Invitational after he graduated in 2017.
TK Edogi transferred to Iona from Tulane (noticing a theme?) and matured into a solid frontcourt player by his senior season in New Rochelle. He averaged 8.6 points and 7.1 rebounds for the 2017-18 Iona team that fell to Duke in the Second Round. He is now playing in Turkey. Edogi, who was second in the MAAC in rebounding during his senior season, will give GaelNation a body that can bang inside and get tough boards.
One of the older players on the team, Taaj Ridley, last played for Iona in 2012-13, when he averaged 8.2 ppg in only 24.4 minutes. He has continued playing basketball since, traveling around the globe and also getting a couple looks by the G League. This is the third year in a row that Ridley will be playing for GaelNation in The Basketball Tournament.
Like Lewis, Mike Poole finished his career at Iona. After three seasons in the Big East, Poole played a final transfer season with the Gaels after getting a waiver due to the Mike Rice scandal. Poole was never a big scorer in college, but he did lots of little things, and averaged 6.0 ppg and 4.2 rpg during his time with the Gaels. Poole has been playing for the Halifax Hurricanes the past few seasons.
One other note:
GaelNation has one of the best Twitter accounts of any of The Basketball Tournament participants. They’re great about posting updates on gameday and for telling fans about additions to the roster. They’ll be a must-follow once the action starts.