In September 2011, former Michigan State forward Delvon Roe assumed he’d never don a green and white jersey on the court again. After playing in 109 contests in three seasons (2008-11), accumulating two appearances in the Final Four and one in the national title game, the 6-foot-8, 235-pounder developed chronic knee pain. Seeing that another year would lead to his discomfort worsening, as well as stealing away minutes from younger players, Roe forwent his senior campaign.

Following graduation, the theater major pursued his aspired career path in Hollywood, playing roles in both full-length and short films, such as Love and Honor, starring well-known actor Liam Hemsworth. On top of that, he even appeared in an episode of Tosh.0 on Comedy Central, along with The Real Husbands of Hollywood on BET, accompanied by celebrities Kevin Hart, Nick Cannon and Nelly.

Nevertheless, when he least expected to hear about a unique scenario, involving his previous obsession, he was informed of a way to step back onto the hardwood with a few of his old friends.

Brandon Wood, who transferred via Valparaiso to play for the Spartans the year after Roe’s departure, was gathering MSU alumni to play for the Spartan Heroes in The Basketball Tournament, a 64-team, single-elimination tourney where the winning team collects $2 million. Feeling healthier, Roe wouldn’t require much convincing to act on a similar stage to the one he performed on half a decade ago.

“When you’ve played in that type of environment, you know what it takes to win,” he said.

DETROIT - DECEMBER 03: Delvon Roe #10 of the Michigan State Spartans listens to head coach Tom Izzo during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels on December 3, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
DETROIT – DECEMBER 03: Delvon Roe #10 of the Michigan State Spartans listens to head coach Tom Izzo during the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels on December 3, 2008 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Although his team came up short in the second round versus the Golden Eagle Alumni, through TBT, Roe and many other former NCAA and NBA players are receiving another opportunity to battle against elite competition in a basketball junkie’s dream: July’s version of March Madness.

Two years ago, TBT founders Jonathan Mugar and Dan Friel introduced the five-on-five event, which encompassed just 32 teams. Plus, the subsequent champion only reeled in $500,000. Yet due to increased interest from talent around the country, the prize doubled each of the last two tournaments.

“The challenge we had in the first year was like 90 percent of the people thought it was fake, and even the people who showed up didn’t think they’d get paid,” Mugar said. “Once we had that first year and paid the Notre Dame team, they started to come to us.”

Once the free-of-charge tournament swelled up to 64 teams, it was divided into four regions (Charlotte, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia), consisting of 16 squads apiece. In order to enter, clubs must garner supporters, as the top-11 teams who compile the most fan votes from their respective fields receive a ticket into the bracket.

Additionally, three eligible groups in every region qualify for an at-large bid. The other two spots are handed out to the defending champion from the region and the team that raises the largest sum of money for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in TBT’s GoFundMe contest.

Generally, the majority of teams consist of a general manager, booster, coach, players and a “ringer,” who represents any player that the squad wishes to add if it reaches the Super 16, taking place in Philadelphia. The regionals and championship will occur in New York.

For the first time, St. Xavier University hosted Chicago’s side of the bracket, featuring both brand-name and generic faces, including ex-Sacramento Kings’ guards Mike Bibby and Jason Williams, who also won a title with the Miami Heat in 2006. Ironically, 15 years ago, the two were dealt for one another, as Bibby ventured to Northern California while Williams traveled southeast to play for the Memphis Grizzlies.

“I always wanted to play with Jason,” Bibby said. “The first time we played together was in Oakland, when the rookies played the sophomores, and it was just good to be with another point guard.”

The two prolific players took advantage of the TBT, pairing up to form Pedro’s Posse, who advanced to the Super 16. The 40-year-old Williams averaged 13 points, eight assists, four rebounds over the two-game stretch, while the 38-year-old Bibby collected 15.5 points, nine rebounds and six assists per contest. Still, their well-oiled bodies lasted through each of the grueling games, averaging 28.5 minutes and 28 minutes apiece.

“I think I could probably still play in the NBA, but I’m good with not having a boss,” Williams said. “Any chance you get to play basketball, though, I’m going to, and you’ve got $2 million on the line, so why not?”

Even though their pro careers have concluded, both found another stable connection to basketball, keeping them close to the game that they heavily cherish. Bibby is currently the head coach of the boy’s varsity basketball team at Shadow Mountain High School, his alma mater, in Phoenix, Arizona. The 14-year NBA vet thoroughly enjoys preaching the game that he fell in love with as a kid.

On the flip side, “White Chocolate” competes in a pro-am league in Orlando, Fla., consistently toasting the competition.

Kaleb Lush, a resident of Sacramento, Calif., came to TBT, never seeing his favorite player in-person until the guard stepped onto the Shannon Center’s floor. In the early 2000s, Lush remembered the Kings advertising tickets based on who the opposing players were. Then Williams arrived, giving fans a legitimate reason to support their own squad.

“I just loved the way he passed, dribbled and just shot whenever the hell he wanted to,” Lush said.

Other attendees took in the chance to witness past stars, who shined under the NCAA’s spotlight. Led by Christian Watford and Jacob Pullen, ex-Indiana and Kansas State players participated in the one-and-done event.

Yet, just Watford, who recently took a break from basketball due to an Achilles injury, and his Armored Athlete bunch advanced to the third round. Still, the Wildcat alum created one of the top highlights from the weekend’s action, knocking down a three-pointer with under two minutes to go, leading Purple and Black to its lone victory.

“It was similar to a lot of games you’d see in March [Madness], and it’s a great feeling to play in a tournament like this,” Pullen said.

While each team needed a few ticks to find their rhythm, Watford, joined by two Indiana alum, and Pullen, surrounded by much of his late 2000s Wildcats’ team, clicked with their old coworkers eventually.

“Playing with these guys, they’re going to always let me know that they want me to take that shot,” Pullen said. “It’s a great boost of confidence.”

Since journeying overseas and suiting up for seven different teams, Pullen’s memories of playing in front of a ruckus Wildcats’ crowd disappeared. However, he was able to taste those thrills for parts of each game, as numerous fans drove from Kansas to bang aggressively on the bleachers in support of the Purple and Black. Unexpectedly, the point guard found himself performing in a college-like atmosphere once again.

In a tournament meant to distribute only happiness and heartbreak over the desired paycheck, these players seemingly exposed the hidden pleasures of a blossoming concept.

About Eli Hershkovich

Eli Hershkovich is a graduate of DePaul University. Along with writing, he also works at 670 The Score, a sports radio station in Chicago.

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