The second annual "The Basketball Tournament" will get underway Friday across the country, and Arizona State fans will recognize a familiar name on one of the 97 teams taking part.
Ike Diogu, who donned the maroon and gold in Tempe from 2002-2005, will lead LAUNFD (L.A. Unified) as they begin their quest to win the tournament and its $1 million grand prize.
The Basketball Tournament was started in 2014 by Jon Mugar, who sought to provide a March Madness-like experience that anyone could participate in. 32 teams competed for the title of the inaugural tournament, and the $500,000 prize was eventually won by the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni.
The Fighting Alumni are back this year, along with an expanded field, a bigger payout, and an ESPN television deal. Throwing its hat into the ring are LAUNFD, a team made up primarily of Los Angeles area products.
The roster is a loaded one. Diogu, a top-10 pick back in the 2005 NBA Draft, should be able to dominate inside. He will be joined down low by former rival Hassan Adams, who shined at Arizona the same time Diogu was with the Sun Devils. Rounding out the frontcourt is power forward David Blu, who led his team to a 2014 Euroleague Championship under the direction of now Cleveland Cavalier head coach David Blatt.
The team does not yet know who will start at point guard, but a couple of solid options are available in the form of Pooh Jeter and Bobby Brown. Jeter is a high volume scorer out of the University of Portland, where he averaged 18.5 points per game in his senior season. Brown is more of a pass-first type, and played two seasons in the NBA after shining at Cal State Fullerton.
"I am excited to play with these guys," says Diogu. "I think we have a real shot to win it all".
Of course, no one on the 10 man roster has as much star power as the team's head coach. Working on a $1 salary (the amount he will receive if the team wins it all), Lakers shooting guard Nick Young has agreed to coach the team for the tournament. Joining him on the staff as general managers are another two former USC Trojans, Jordan Flatt and Elizabeth Friedman.
LAUNFD was founded by two time NBA All-Star Baron Davis as a team to compete in the Drew League. The Drew touts itself as one of the top pro-am leagues in the world, and the on-court play backs it up.
Playing all of its games in south-central Los Angeles, LAUNFD has largely dominated the league since the team's inception. They have won the title in three of the past four seasons and are off to a 6-2 start this year. Often considered to be the city's second or third best professional team (depending on the state of the Clippers and Lakers), it makes sense that LAUNFD enters the 2015 TBT as one of the favorites.
"We have been playing together for years," Flatt told us. "We're just going to play our game and take it one at a time."
Their championship quest will begin on Friday night at Eagle's Nest Arena in Los Angeles. It will take three wins in as many days in order to be one of the four teams to advance out of the West Regional, and LAUNFD is favored in their mini bracket despite not receiving a first round bye. They did earn the No. 2 seed for the entire regional, but byes are determined through a popularity vote and not by seeding.
First up is a date with the Pistol Shrimps, an all-female team made up of more actresses and models than ball players. Their inclusion perfectly illustrates the tournament's goal of involving any team that gains enough support to earn an entry.
Should LAUNFD take care of business in its opener, a date with the Everett Evolution awaits them on Saturday night. The Evolution roster is made up of players from three separate ABA teams, and should provide a more fordable challenge than that of the Shrimps.
Sunday's game with advancement on the line could be played against any one of three other teams, but the most likely opponent is Cali Boyz. Featuring players from the Inland Empire, the club is led by former Washington forward Perris Blackwell.
Biggest threats to LAUNFD
South No. 4 - Bracket Busters. Made up of players from the recent Mercer and Florida Gulf Coast cinderella teams, the Bracket Busters will be paced by shooting guard Sherwood Brown. Brown averaged 18.3 points per game during FGCU's NCAA Tournament run, and he now plays for the D-League's Maine Red Claws.
Midwest No. 3 - Armored Athlete. This team does not have a theme but, it does feature of the deepest rosters in the field. They will be led by a name familiar to Sun Devil fans, former Xavier and Arizona guard Mark Lyons. Joining him in AA's "Big Three" are former Indiana standouts Christian Watford and Will Sheehey.
Midwest No. 5 - Eberlein Drive. Boasting one of the top backcourts in the tournament, Eberlein Drive will have no shortage of options between former NBA players Jamaal Tinsley and Von Wafer and former Oregon spark plug Tajuan Porter. Throw in a first round draft pick in Renaldo Balkman down low and this team is going to be a very tough out.
West No. 1 - Grantland. One of the favorites to win it all, Grantland has no shortage of big names. They will be led by a trio of outstanding point guards in Mike Bibby, Jason Williams, and Reggie Moore, and former USC and Boston Celtics power forward Brian Scalabrine will be manning the inside.
West No. 4 - Colorado. Made up entirely of Colorado alums, the Buffs will have the benefit of sharing similar backgrounds and offensive systems. The team is led by the program's all-time leading scorer, Richard Roby, and also features Jeremy Adams, Sabatino Chen, and Spencer Dinwiddie.
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