Jonathan Mugar’s idea was simple: create a single-elimination, winner-take-all basketball tournament full of ex-college stars and pros. The Basketball Tournament—or, more simply, TBT—would take place every summer and, much like March Madness, only a select few could enter, determined by popular demand and an at-large selection process.
When TBT first launched in 2014, a team made up of former Notre Dame basketball players took the title, and the squad won $500,000, but the competition was seen largely as a niche event: perfect for the summer months to ease the doldrums of choosing between golf and baseball for your sports viewing pleasure. In the years since, though, TBT has exploded, adding 32 more teams (for a total of 64) to the field and upping the prize money to a whopping $2 million, attracting better athletes and enhancing the competitive spirit.
It’s within this chasm that Overseas Elite began its dynasty. An easy team to root for—Overseas Elite is stocked with Big East favorites including former St. John’s players (like DJ Kennedy) and Pittsburgh-area stars (DeAndre Kane)—the squad has won the past two TBT titles, racking up $4 million in the process and carving a path to the 2017 TBT finals (versus the Carmelo Anthony-coached Challenge ALS, which airs Thursday night on ESPN, challenging the NFL Network’s first preseason game).
Each of the half-dozen of so Overseas Elite players all have careers playing international ball, so it’s somewhat shocking that a team of such disparate players can come together for three straight years and make a mockery of the competition.
So what has helped Overseas Elite achieve this level of dominance? The team is built much like the modern NBA—that is, chock full of positionless players all capable of driving the lane and finishing at the rim or scorching the nets from deep. During the win against Boeheim’s Army in the TBT semifinals, Overseas Elite connected on nearly 50 percent of its threes, led by Errick McCollum II’s five three-pointers. During his time as a member of the Red Storm, Kennedy wasn’t known for his passing capabilities, but the big has evolved into a point-forward as a three-time Overseas Elite member (handing out 19 assist over five games).
By mimicking the tweaks already embedded in the modern NBA—offensive spacing, perimeter shooting, and lineups stacked with multi-versatile players—Overseas Elite has essentially become the Golden State Warriors of The Basketball Tournament. Back in 2014, when TBT was still very much a cool idea rather than a proven concept, Grantland’s Zach Lowe outlined the uniqueness of such a competition:
Picking the teams is the fun part. Any group of between seven and 10 players can apply for one of the 32 spots on TBT’s website (launching today). Every team has to have a “general manager” who selects the players, manages the team, and recruits “fans” through the website. Every “fan” must fill out a simple form to become official, and any team wishing to make the 32-team field must recruit at least 100 such fans — and likely thousands more. The 24 teams with the most fans will earn automatic bids into the 32-team field. The tournament organizers will choose the remaining eight teams, provided they’ve all met a baseline of 100 enlisted fans. That allows the tournament to make sure a high-profile team can make the field even if it somehow fails to pile up enough fans to crack the top 24.