On July 4, the seventh annual edition of The Basketball Tournament, a winner-take-all event for a $1 million prize, will commence in Columbus, Ohio. Precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have included shrinking the pool to 24 teams, holding the tournament in a central location (Nationwide Arena) and demanding an extensive health and safety plan.
But the players, who have been and will continue to be subject to testing protocols, will stage the first round of televised basketball in the United States since March.
It’s a stacked field. Boeheim’s Army boasts four former first-round NBA draft picks. Carmen’s Crew, the defending champs, return. And Overseas Elite, which had won four consecutive TBT titles and $7 million total in prize money prior to last year’s event, added Joe Johnson, a seven-time NBA All-Star. Plus, the field is littered with recent collegiate standouts, such as former Gonzaga star Josh Perkins and Mike Daum, the former South Dakota State standout who is among the NCAA’s career leaders in scoring.
It’s an impressive collection of talent.
While many of the players have spent their professional careers overseas, they’re all widely known for their achievements in college.
In recent weeks, ESPN asked multiple TBT standouts about a game from their college careers that still crosses their minds. A few recalled pleasant moments. But the majority of the players who spoke to ESPN detailed heartbreaking memories that remain difficult to digest.
Travis Diener (Golden Eagles): 38th pick in the 2005 NBA draft; averaged 14.1 PPG in four years at Marquette
Game I can’t forget: Marquette’s 94-61 loss to Kansas in the 2003 Final Four at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Marquette entered halftime down 59-30. Diener finished 1-for-11 with five points.
“The one I probably think about the most is our Final Four game against Kansas when we just got absolutely pounded. It’s not something that really bugs me, because the game was such a blowout. It was just an old-fashioned butt-whipping. That’s the one that gets brought up the most. You’re always gonna remember that. The Kentucky game the week before I remember for all the positives.
“You’re grateful now. When you’re in it at that age, you don’t really appreciate it. You don’t get the chance to sit back and understand what you’ve accomplished. I think now, years later, being more removed from school and having people tell me where they were at that time [of our Final Four run], I think I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for what we did accomplish.”
Aaron Craft (Carmen’s Crew): Two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year (2012, 2014); averaged 4.7 APG and 2.3 SPG in four-year career at Ohio State
Game I can’t forget: Ohio State’s 64-62 loss to Kansas in the 2012 Final Four at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Kansas overcame a 13-point deficit in the first half. With his team down by three points with 2.9 seconds to play, Craft made the first free throw but got whistled for a lane violation after he intentionally missed the second. His steal and subsequent layup had given Ohio State a three-point lead with 2:22 to play in the game.
“The game that hurts the most is definitely the Final Four game in 2012. I don’t know what happens. Sometimes it just flashes back. I got a steal with 2:30 left to put us up by three. Kansas calls a timeout, and then it went downhill. One of the toughest things about it is not knowing. We feel like we matched up well with Kentucky [the 2012 national champion]. Not knowing what that game would have been like, not getting that opportunity to be able to compete with them. We felt like we had the opportunity to match up well.
“It’s not something that eats at me terribly. It was an unbelievable experience. We played in front of 70,000 people. There are very few people that can say they did that. That team was a lot of fun to be around. The further away you get, you just appreciate it.”
Isaac Haas (Men of Mackey): Averaged 14.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.3 BPG as a senior at Purdue during the 2017-18 season; third-team all-Big Ten selection in 2018
Game I can’t forget: Back-to-back losses to Ohio State (Keita Bates-Diop hit a game-winning putback with 2.8 seconds to play in a 64-63 loss) and at Michigan State (Miles Bridges made the game-winning 3-pointer with seven seconds to play in a 68-65 loss) toward the end of the 2017-18 season that snapped a 19-game winning streak for Purdue.
The losses to Ohio State and at Michigan State were part of a three-game losing streak that cost the Boilermakers a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
“The one I still think about, well, it’s really two. Back to back, we played Ohio State and Michigan State my senior year. We had that huge winning streak going. We got an unfortunate tip-in at the buzzer [against Ohio State], and then Miles Bridges hits the game-winning shot at Michigan State. Those two still eat at me. When I think back, it’s like, ‘What else could I have done to get one or two more baskets?’ Obviously, it hurt. It’s one of those ones where there was good defense being played. There was no real flaw in what we were doing. It’s just one of those things. What eats at me is everything we could have done before [the final minutes of those games]. I felt like we handled business versus all these teams during our winning streak. I felt like we could win it all. It was a special team.”
Joe Johnson (Overseas Elite): No. 10 pick in the 2001 NBA draft; seven-time NBA all-star; averaged 15.0 PPG and made 41% of his 3-point attempts in two years at Arkansas
Game I can’t forget: Arkansas’ 75-71 loss to Miami in the first round of the 2000 NCAA tournament
Down by 13 points midway through the second half, Arkansas launched a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to three points with 23 seconds to play but couldn’t stop the more experienced Miami squad. Johnson, a freshman, finished 4-for-16 and scored 13 points. Arkansas had won the SEC tournament to secure the league’s automatic bid.
“We had to win the SEC tournament just to get into the NCAA tournament. We came out of that going into the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round to the University of Miami. It was a game we definitely should have had. We were a young team led by a lot of freshmen. We just really didn’t have the experience. We got off to a slow start, and we didn’t understand. We didn’t have the sense of urgency. We knew you needed to play hard.
“We weren’t exhausted from the SEC tournament, although we had to play four games in four days. Throughout that NCAA tournament game, however, we just could never gain momentum. We would be right in the game, but we could never get over that hump. It hurt because of our experience alone. You look back 20 years later and there is so much I could’ve done to help us win. My college days were a lot more fun for me than the NBA. It was a dream for me to be a Razorback. I never even took a visit anywhere. I knew where I wanted to go.”
Josh Perkins (Playing for Jimmy V): Two-time all-WCC first-team selection; averaged 10.2 PPG and 4.7 APG in four years at Gonzaga
Game I can’t forget: Every NCAA tournament loss. A 75-69 loss to Texas Tech in the Elite Eight in 2019, a 75-60 loss to Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen in 2018, a 71-65 loss to North Carolina in the national championship in 2017 and a 63-60 loss to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen in 2016.
In the national title game in 2017, Perkins finished with 13 points. But 14 turnovers and foul trouble for the squad’s frontcourt (Zach Collins fouled out in the second half) — a point of controversy for Gonzaga fans — put his team in a tough position.
“It’s hard for me to choose between the  game against Texas Tech in the Elite Eight and the championship [in 2017]. Obviously, it’s easy for people to say the national championship because we could have made history for our school. I felt like last year I was a senior leader, a guy that could’ve put the team on my back. I felt like I let them down. It’s hard for me to pick between those two games. But really, all four NCAA tournament losses in my career stand out. We could have won all four of those games. It’s not a good feeling when you could have done more and changed something. I think anybody who watched that national title game knew it was a weird, choppy flow. The officiating definitely put some key players on the bench.”
Tyshawn Taylor (Stillwater Stars): Averaged 10.8 PPG and 3.9 APG over four years at Kansas
Game I can’t forget: Kansas’ 87-86 overtime win over Missouri on Feb. 25, 2012, in Lawrence, Kansas.
With 17:03 to play in the game, Missouri had a 55-36 lead. But the Jayhawks rallied with an incredible run down the stretch. Taylor’s two free throws cut Missouri’s lead to three with six minutes to play, and Thomas Robinson’s shot and free throw in the final seconds of regulation sent the rivalry matchup into overtime, when Taylor scored nine of his team’s 12 points.
“That’s an easy pick. My senior year, we played Missouri at home. It was a huge rivalry game. It was the last time we were going to have that home-and-home rivalry. We definitely wanted to win it. We were down like 19, 20 points. I don’t know how we ended up getting into overtime, and then in overtime, taking control of the game.
“Missouri was a great team that year. They played four or five guards, and we’d actually lost to them at Missouri earlier in the season. In this game, we got down big but made every right play the last like 20 minutes of that game. It was ridiculous. I’ve watched it probably 10 different times. I can still remember the last four or five plays, how I was feeling, what was happening in the moment. It’s the loudest I’ve ever heard Allen Fieldhouse. I don’t know how we won. But when I saw the switch on [my teammates’] faces, I said, ‘We got this.’ It’s not really much [Bill Self] could say. He said to just do what we do. It’s about the next play. You’re not going to make a 17-point shot. Next time, let’s get the lead down to eight. We’re just playing four-minute games. That’s how he broke it down. The game was so loud you couldn’t even hear him.”
Ethan Happ (Team Hines): Three-time all-Big Ten first team at Wisconsin; consensus second-team All-American in 2019
Game I can’t forget: Wisconsin’s 84-83 overtime loss to Florida in the Sweet 16 in 2017.
Happ finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. But 16 turnovers and a dazzling effort by KeVaughn Allen (35 points) fueled the victory for Florida, which won on Chris Chiozza’s buzzer beater.
“I got it on my board at my home, the final box score of the Florida game in the 2017 Sweet 16. Chris Chiozza hit that one-footed runner at the buzzer. That game will always hurt me the most because one of the biggest things was that I got to play with those seniors [Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown]. We beat Villanova, the No. 1 seed, and we were on our way to beating Florida, barring something crazy. South Carolina, which we would have played next, in terms of the bracket, is who you would want to play, and we felt confident we could get to the Final Four that year.
“It stung. I still have that thing on my bulletin board. You can look at it how you want. Everyone has their own opinion. It’s easy for people on Twitter to say things, but if Chiozza doesn’t make this miraculous shot, no one says a word [of criticism]. No part of us thought we were going to walk through Florida. KeVaughn Allen was hot, and he kept hitting shots. C’mon, man — I just stopped having nightmares and you want to ask me about this? We should have won that game. I’m sure Florida would say the same thing. But in a seven-game series, we’re winning that series.”
DeAndre Kane (Overseas Elite): Averaged 17.1 PPG and made 40% of his 3-point attempts as a senior at Iowa State during the 2013-14 season after transferring from Marshall; earned Big 12 tournament MVP honors in 2014
Game I can’t forget: Iowa State’s 87-72 win over Baylor in his first Big 12 home game in Ames, Iowa.
The box score tells the story. Baylor dominated the offensive glass and made 44% of its 3-point attempts, but Kane’s 30-point effort sparked a blowout win for the Cyclones.
“Baylor. I had 30. It was a crazy game for me. It was my first home game in the Big 12. It was on ESPN, 9 o’clock, sold out at Hilton Coliseum. I had one of the greatest performances of my career. It was amazing. Playing in front of 15,000 people, packed like that on a Tuesday for a prime-time game. Once I hit a few shots, I was on. Coach Fred [Hoiberg], he told me we had some good young guys and he needed a veteran point guard to help those guys. He had an offense that was very good for me and Georges [Niang] and Melvin [Ejim]. It was really fun playing in that system. It was amazing. Coach Hoiberg is one of the most talented offensive coaches I ever played for.”
Eric Devendorf (Boeheim’s Army): 2005 McDonald’s All-American; averaged 14.5 PPG over four years at Syracuse
Game I can’t forget: Syracuse’s 127-117 six-overtime win over UConn in the 2009 Big East Tournament quarterfinals.
The game ended at 1:22 a.m. EST. It’s remarkable for a multitude of reasons, but Syracuse didn’t lead until the sixth and final overtime. Seven players finished with at least 19 points in the game. Devendorf had 22 points and four assists.
“If I told you any other game besides the six-overtime game, then I’d be wrong. I still get asked about that at least twice a week. In my mind, it’s the greatest game of all time. It really didn’t hit me until after the game. We went out, my roommates and I. We were at dinner at 2:30, 3 o’clock in the morning and the game was already on ESPN Classic. Right when we saw that, we were like, ‘This was something special,’ but we were just trying to win the game. You can talk about UConn, but it was more so Syracuse. We won that game.
“It was pretty awesome because you think about everything that was in the game. You’re in NYC. You’re playing in Madison Square Garden. You’re on ESPN. You’re playing a game with two rivals. It was the last of the real Big East. I was pretty grateful to play in that conference. There was so much talent, so many NBA guys in that game.
“I just remember Coach [Jim Boeheim] in the huddle. One thing I learned from Coach is being able to keep your composure. Stay calm, poised. I can just remember throughout my career, we’d get in situations where it’d be tight and he never got flustered. He had his times where he yelled at you in the huddle, but he was just always thinking about that next play.
“We never really looked ahead of it going into the overtimes of that game. That said a lot about that team, man. We had guys come in who’d never played, but they were ready. Going up 10 in the sixth overtime is when we really started feeling more comfortable. Even that 10-point win, it was just them fouling us and us hitting free throws at the end. But that’s really when we started feeling comfortable.”