Close-knit Ohio State alumni squad overcomes obstacles to win first TBT championship

By Neel Madhavan
Medill Reports

A week prior to the start of The Basketball Tournament, Carmen’s Crew, the Ohio State alumni team, wasn’t even sure whether or not they would play in the tournament this year. The team only had six players confirmed to participate.

“We were really looking at it saying: ‘I don’t know if this is going to be our year,’” said guard Aaron Craft. “I think the guys just seemed ready. Obviously, we’re extremely excited that we pulled it together in that last week. But it was tough that last week. We thought we were going to have to play zone for three games in a row for three days. Found a way.”

Now, the team is the TBT champion and $2 million richer, defeating the Golden Eagles, a Marquette alumni team, 66-60 on Tuesday night at Chicago’s Wintrust Arena.

“There’s no other group of guys I’d rather do this with, like Evan [Turner] said after the game, we’re family,” said guard Jon Diebler. “Winning the tournament is amazing, winning the money is amazing, but to compete again in an actual game with these guys, because during the year we all go our separate ways, it’s a thing that we’ll cherish forever.”

Carmen’s Crew’s Jon Diebler rises for a three-point shot against the Golden Eagles’ Jerel McNeal on Tuesday night at Wintrust Arena. (Neel Madhavan/MEDILL)

Belief that they could win first started 3 years ago.

Using social media, power forward Evan Ravenel took the reins and helped spearhead the effort to recruit and organize the Ohio State players when they first tried to form the team in 2016 but didn’t have much luck at first.

“I guess I’m the most active guy social media,” Ravenel said. “The guys were like, ‘Eh.’ Half in and half out.”

The summer is typically time off and the chance for professional basketball players, domestically and internationally, to rest and recover after a long season, so a 2-3 week commitment in the middle of that time off is significant.

“We don’t want just to be out here to do this,” Craft said. “We could do that not being away from our families, and I think we all have an understanding that we’re all sacrificing things. Our summers are all very, very short, and if we’re going to do this, we want to do it right.”

However, after watching the tournament games on television that year, they felt confident that they were good enough to win the whole thing. As a result, they entered for the first time in 2017.

Now that the tournament is over and the summer is starting to wind down, the professional basketball season is starting to pick back up. As a result, some of the team has a quick turnaround with guys heading back overseas as soon as Monday, with Craft playing in Italy and guard David Lighty off to France.

Meanwhile, tournament MVP William Buford, who hit the two game-winning free throws for Carmen’s Crew, is still looking for a new contract for the upcoming season.

“He shot like 70 percent the whole tournament,” said assistant coach and current Atlanta Hawks guard Evan Turner. “He was unreal. If you watched [Oklahoma City Thunder guard] CP3 [Chris Paul] on the sideline, you could see how impressed he was. Will is a pro.”

Carmen’s Crew’s LaQuinton Ross drives into the lane against the Golden Eagles’ Mo Charlo Tuesday night at Wintrust Arena. (Neel Madhavan/MEDILL)

More and more college alumni teams are participating in the tournament every year and this year was the first time in TBT’s short history that the championship game was between two alumni teams.

Having played two, three and sometimes four years together in college creates a special bond amongst alumni players. Even though they may go their separate ways and do their own thing during the season, they often come back together during the summer.

In Carmen’s Crew’s case, that familiarity with one another serves as an advantage for the team in the tournament, according to Ravenel, and can be a catalyst for a championship run.

“We all pretty much live in Columbus, Ohio in summertime,” Ravenel said. “We work out at the same gym together. So, we’re lifting in the morning, shooting in the afternoon, playing mid-afternoon and at night we are drinking, hanging out, playing cards together. We’re always together, we are all best friends.”

Photo at top: Carmen’s Crew, the Ohio State alumni team, poses with the TBT trophy after defeating the Golden Eagles 66-60 on Tuesday Aug. 6 at Wintrust Arena. (Neel Madhavan/MEDILL)