UPDATE: Herd That’s first opponent, Best Virginia, has withdrawn after a player tested positive for COVID-19. The Marshall alumni will face Playing for Jimmy V instead.
The Basketball Tournament is a basketball junkie’s dream. Founded in 2014 by Jonathan Mugar, it is an innovative way to give former college stars another chance to catch NBA executives’ eyes. Not only does it happen during the downtime of the men’s basketball season, it’s all shown on ESPN’s family of networks.
Though TBT is traditionally a 64-team event, organizers had to cut it to 24 teams this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This left a lot of questions on who would be the last couple teams in the field. Teams such as the Golden Eagles (Marquette alumni), Carmen’s Crew (Ohio State alumni), and four-time champion Overseas Elite were always a guarantee. Just like on Selection Sunday, mid-major teams were left waiting to see their names. Herd That (Marshall alumni) was one of just two mid-major teams to make the final cut. Red Scare (Dayton alumni) was the other.
Marshall legend Jon Elmore and his brother Ot came up with the idea of a Marshall alumni team and both will be on the squad. Ot is also the team’s GM.
“I got the idea of putting a team in TBT while watching it one summer while I was still in college and thought that would be cool to do.” Ot said.
Jon led the Thundering Herd to their first tournament appearance in 31 years, leading to the school’s only NCAA Tournament win in history, when it knocked off 4 seed Wichita State in 2018. He was also a four-year starter in Huntington and currently leads Conference USA in career points, assists and three-pointers made. Ot was a contributor at UT Rio Grande Valley before transferring to Marshall as a walk-on alongside his brother for his final two seasons.
They aren’t the only Elmores on Herd That — their father, Gay, is the head coach. Gay was a decorated college basketball player himself, becoming just the 10th player in SoCon history to win back-to-back player of the year awards while he was at VMI.
“He coached me in youth basketball and then AAU until I was a senior. He also helped coach the team [West Virginia Wildcats] last year so it was a really cool experience having him around and coaching the team” Jon Elmore said.
Along with the Elmore brothers, other significant Marshall players of the 2010s, including Stevie Browning and CJ Burks, are on the squad. In total, there are six former Thundering Herd players on the roster, five of which were guards.
This is obviously not enough to field a team, so the Elmores added two Conference USA rivals in UAB’s Chris Cokley and Middle Tennessee’s JaCorey Williams, who each have NCAA Tournament upsets under their belts.
Cokley helped his Blazers beat Iowa State in the 2014 NCAA Tournament as a 14 seed. Williams was one of the key pieces to the 2017 MTSU team that went 31-5 and beat the 5 seed Minnesota Golden Gophers in the first round. He was also a last-minute addition after his initial team, Team Arkansas TBT, didn’t make the field.
“They are talented offensively and know how to play the game the right way,” Williams said. “I think we have a chance to win.”
Ot Elmore made two high major additions as well in Texas Tech’s Zach Smith, and Pitt and Arizona’s Ryan Luther.
Smith was a sharpshooter at Tech, shooting 56 percent from the field during his senior season while picking up loads of Big 12 accolades.
Luther was also an on-point shooter, shooting 52.5 percent in his time in Pittsburgh. Along with that, he shot 41.5 percent from three point range and was one of the biggest transfers on the market before he decided to play at Arizona.
And just like his new teammates from Marshall, he has a built-in rivalry with West Virginia. Marshall and WVU are the only Division I schools in the state of West Virginia, while Pitt has had a longstanding rivalry with the Mountaineers. It just so happens that Herd That has drawn the West Virginia alumni team, Best Virginia, in the first round of The Tournament.
“Having that extra spark will be fun” Luther said.
For good measure, West Virginia was also the team that ended Marshall’s 2018 NCAA Tournament run.
“Revenge is definitely on our minds and we are looking forward to competing against them again” Jon Elmore said.
Just like at Marshall during the Elmores’ tenure, offense and speed will be his team’s strong suit.
“We will run a similar offense to what coach D’Antoni ran with Steve Nash and the Suns,” Ot Elmore said.
During Jon Elmore’s senior season, the Thundering Herd had the third-highest adjusted tempo in the country and third-shortest average possession length under that offense. They also scored 80-plus points in 20 games that season.
Herd That started their 11-day training camp in Charleston, West Virginia on Friday. They’ll play their opening game of the tournament against Best Virginia on Sunday, July 5.