5 things about TBT as coach Jared Sullinger, Ohio State's Carmen's Crew prepares to play
Putting together the roster for Carmen’s Crew is an annual challenge for coach Jared Sullinger. With a shot at the $1 million prize that comes with winning The Basketball Tournament, there is no shortage of former Buckeyes who look forward to the opportunity to participate with the Ohio State alumni team.
A roster spot figured to be even more coveted this year after the 2020 team suffered a surprising opening-game loss. Now, add in the fact that the first three rounds will be played on Ohio State’s campus at the Covelli Center, and suddenly Sullinger has had to assemble a roster amid unprecedented interest.
“I usually make phone calls around January or February and see if guys want to play and usually they do, especially when we’re playing at Ohio State this year,” he told The Dispatch on Thursday morning. “That was real easy. This year it’s been real easy getting guys to play.”
Here are five more things to know about Carmen’s Crew, its players and the 2021 edition of the tournament.
1. With Aaron Craft, Keyshawn Woods and others, Jared Sullinger looking for blend
An invitation to Ohio State’s first-ever “Pro Week” showed Carmen’s Crew members Jon Diebler and Craft that working back to full playing capacity is a challenge after a year away.
Buckeyes basketball:'Pro Week' brings D'Angelo Russell, Ohio State alumni back to play with Buckeyes
Last fall, Diebler’s wife had twins, and the Big Ten’s all-time leader in three-point shooting underwent a procedure on his knee, all leading to a year away from the game.
“We’re trying to get in shape,” Diebler said of the week, which included drills, scrimmages and workouts with the current Ohio State team. “We’re definitely not getting any younger, myself included. I’m excited for the new guys that we have. We’re not gonna be able to do this forever.”
The list of new guys includes Shannon Scott, who will be making his TBT debut, and Woods, who will be counted on to handle both guard positions. Craft played at Ohio State from 2010-14 and is likely to come off the bench for Carmen’s Crew with Scott, who played for the Buckeyes from 2011-15. Woods spent one season with the Buckeyes as a graduate transfer in 2018-19.
“He’s a very gritty scorer,” Sullinger said of Woods. “It’s not the flashiest, it’s not the most athletic, but it’s a lot of footwork. A lot of his stuff is very disciplined with a lot of footwork. He can really play.”
Craft and Sullinger discussed his situation prior to joining the team after a year away from the court due to his first year of medical school.
“We had a couple conversations about whether I could play or should play, if I would be beneficial at all,” Craft said Thursday while participating in the Greater Columbus Sports Commission’s Virtual Sports Report. “Fortunately he felt I could. I’m super happy I could.”
Year two of medical school starts August 9 for Craft, six days after the TBT championship game will be played at Dayton’s UD Arena.
This year's team was also slated to have Kaleb Wesson, but he ultimately had to withdraw after securing an NBA Summer League invitation. He has been replaced by Kosta Koufos.
2. Jared Sullinger would rather coach than play in TBT
After starring in South Korea in a return to the professional game, Sullinger has been keeping busy locally playing in the Kingdom Summer League and keeping himself in playing condition. He’s both played for and coached the Ohio State team in The Basketball Tournament, but after leading Carmen’s Crew to the 2019 title Sullinger said he’d rather be on the sideline that on the court.
At least, at this level.
“I feel like TBT is a great place not only for the players to build a resume but as well as for people to build a coaching resume,” he said. “You see a lot of great coaches out here showing a lot of great sets and showing a lot of great defensive schemes and showing they can coach, so it gives people opportunities to showcase what they can do.”
Sullinger’s family is expecting a baby girl in September, and he’s pushed off any decisions about his future until after she’s born.
“When I retire, I want to go into coaching,” he said. “This is kind of my lead-up into that process.”
Craft and his wife, Amber, are also expecting a baby girl in September.
3. Will The Basketball Tournament start a women’s tournament?
The idea has been whispered for years, and TBT executive president and co-founder Jen Todd said Thursday that it’s a possibility.
“Putting me on the spot there,” she said when asked about the possibility while also participating in virtual sports report. “There has been some progress at that. We have thought a lot about that and we’ll have more to say on that hopefully this fall.”
For now, Todd pointed out that team Founding Fathers, comprised primarily of James Madison University alumni, featured a woman: Kamiah Smalls, a two-time Colonial Athletic Association player of the year who is now playing professionally. A No. 16 seed, Founding Fathers lost to No. 1 seed Sideline Cancer in the West Virginia regional, 80-77, on July 18.
Smalls saw 48 seconds of playing time and did not record a statistic, becoming the first woman to participate in the event since 2016. This year, 110 teams applied for the 64 slots, Todd said.
4. Former Buckeyes star Evan Turner has had a role
Although he hasn’t participated as a player, Evan Turner has helped fund Ohio State’s TBT teams and served as general manager. This year, he’s not on the official roster, but Sullinger said Turner still participated.
“Evan, as quiet as he’s been, which is rightfully so being the assistant coach at the Boston Celtics, he’s always putting his input in,” Sullinger said. “He’s always around, connected with the group so that never changes. Once you’re in the circle, you’re in the circle.”
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After working as player enhancement coach for the Celtics last season following a 10-year pro career, Turner did participate in Ohio State’s “pro week” alongside Craft, Diebler and others.
5. Don’t underestimate the impact of Jeff Gibbs
When Carmen’s Crew was powering its way to the 2019 TBT championship, Gibbs emerged as a lynchpin down low. Although he only stands 6-2, the Otterbein alumnus was able to use his sheer physical strength and crafty post game to provide valuable minutes and allow Carmen’s Crew to play a smaller lineup with him as the de facto center.
Last year, Gibbs suffered an injury during Carmen’s Crew’s only game, and it had an impact. Now 40, he’s back and expected to help create more mismatches this summer. He averaged 10 points and six rebounds during the six-game run to the title two years ago.
“He’s an old, savvy vet that knows how to play and has good feet for his age,” Sullinger said. “That’s huge. It’s not about his size, it’s about his muscle mass and that man has a lot of muscle. That’s what we need in the paint.”