TBT 2021: Carmen's Crew preps for first game after opening-round loss in 2020
After being ousted in the opening round of The Basketball Tournament last year, Carmen's Crew has returned with some new and familiar faces.
Among them is first-time team member Kosta Koufos, who starred at Ohio State for one season in 2008.
"It's awesome to see all the guys that I played with in college back in the day," Koufos said Monday. "It's a huge honor. The energy's still there. It's like we never left. There's a lot of great talent, and to be able to participate in this, it's going to be a lot of fun."
Last year, in one of the biggest upsets of the $1 million, winner-take-all tournament, the OSU alumni squad, despite being named the tournament's No. 1 seed, lost 76-68 to House of 'Paign. The 2020 tournament featured only 24 teams, and Carmen's Crew was defending its 2019 title when it fell flat against the roster of Illinois alums.
This year, the No. 1 seeded Carmen's Crew will open play against No. 16 seed Mid-American Unity at 9 p.m. Friday at the Covelli Center.
The game will be televised live on ESPN, and whoever advances will face the winner of No. 8 seed Men of Mackey (Purdue alumni) and No. 9 seed Ballinteers (Tennessee alumni).
That game will take place at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Former Buckeye Jared Sullinger is the general manager and coach of this year's Carmen's Crew. The Columbus native is back leading the team for a third straight year.
"A lot of people want to play for Carmen's Crew," he said, "but you gotta do what's best for the group and to win $1 million, essentially. It was a lot of tough work, a lot of long hours just making phone calls, trying to persuade guys to play, (and) I think we got a good group of guys."
He later added that, in addition to selling players on the idea of signing on to join him, he also had to turn away "tons" of players who wanted to be a part of the roster. He is excited about the end result.
"I think we're more dynamic," Sullinger said when asked how this team compares to the 2019 group that won the title. "We added some great pieces to the pieces we already had, and we're looking forward to going out and competing on Friday."
After last year's misstep in the opening round, Sullinger said they have learned to approach games as the "hunter, not the hunted."
"These guys are determined not to repeat what we did last year, and that's pretty much how we're competing," he said.
The future doctor is in
Aaron Craft is returning to the squad despite enrolling in medical school at Ohio State.
"Just (been) hanging out, relaxing," Craft said. "... I miss talking trash a little bit. Not a lot of that going on in medical school, which is probably a good thing. We got to come here a couple of weeks ago with the current team; and that was a great time, and this is fun too."
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Koufos, who was a third-team All-Big Ten selection in his only year at OSU, adds size and length along with his experience from more than a decade in the NBA.
Joining Koufos as first-time members are former Buckeye guard Shannon Scott and Miami (Ohio) grad Julian Mavunga.
Scott played at Ohio State for four years. He led the Big Ten in total assists and assists per game during the 2014-15 season, helping pace the Buckeyes to a 24-11 record. Scott said that, despite most of the group not playing together while in college, this group has a remarkable chemistry.
"Just every summer ... you kind of build-up that relationship from there," said Scott, who competes in the G-League as a member of the Long Island Nets. "After that, it's just staying together, communicating, group chats, all that stuff."
Former Buckeye swingman Keyshawn Woods is joining Carmen's Crew after previously having played for Big X, a team of former Big Ten players that is not a part of the 2021 event.
Woods transferred to Ohio State from Wake Forest and then averaged 8.1 points and 3.1 rebounds a game as a senior. He started 15 games in that 2018-19 season.
Former prep teammates meet again
Sullinger played with James "JD" Weatherspoon at Northland High School, winning a state title together in 2009.
Now they are set to collide at TBT, as Weatherspoon is a member of Mid-American Unity.
Weatherspoon appeared in 35 games in two seasons with the Buckeyes before transferring to Toledo and garnering All-MAC honorable mention honors.