The Basketball Tournament Championship, One Game for $500K


ESPN3 announced they will carry the The Basketball Tournament’s (TBT) inaugural Championship Game this Saturday. Tune in for the final act.

It was far from easy. “Team Barstool” and “Notre Dame Fighting Alumni” each battled through four rounds of play to get here, but now the table is set: one game, 36 minutes, for a half-million-dollar purse.

Anyone’s allowed to enter: Villanova’s 2009 Final Four Team, a horde of domestic and international professionals, a legend who reportedly stopped crime in the streets of Baltimore when he stepped foot on a court, a group of best friends from Delaware, even those with hopelessly misplaced pipe dreams.

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Jonathan Mugar, a TV producer, came up with the idea three years ago and has cultivated the concept ever since. Mugar has an all-star team of tournament organizers, mostly Boston-based private investors willing to front the money, behind him: Chief Operating Officer Vincent Martelli, Vice President Jennifer Todd, Director of Content & Compliance Daniel Friel, Basketball Operations Director Rob Kennedy, Advisors Tony Ponturo and Andy Dolich, Media Rights Advisor Len DeLuca, Security Consultant Mark Sullivan, and Recruiting Director Jesse Leeds-Grant.

To be entered, teams simply had to assemble a crew between seven and 10 players, apply on the tournament website, and gather a following of at least 100 “fans.” Voting decided the final cut.

Over 150 teams applied, less than one-fourth made it.

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The tournament wasn’t lacking narratives, either. DMV’s Finest, a throng of players hailing from the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia areas, entered the tournament for the Zaching Against Cancer Foundation. Composed of Friar alumni, St. Anthony High School used the tournament as a media-focused fundraising campaign to generate financial security for the school. PeacePlayers International’s (PPI) run ended in the semi-finals, but continue using basketball to teach tolerance, sensitivity, and leadership to international youth.

This year was poised to be a litmus test for the longevity of the event, but that changed a few days ago. ESPN3 announced they are carrying the inaugural championship game live this Saturday, June 28, at 7 p.m. ET. Boston University’s Case Gymnasium will open its doors to the 92 million homes around the country with high-speed internet.

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“We’ve received daily requests to find media coverage of the championship game,” said TBT founder Jon Mugar. “And now, thanks to ESPN, we’ll be able to show this intense matchup for $500,000 live on ESPN3. This game features passionate athletes playing team basketball and with this much at stake, anything can happen. It’s great that we’ll be able to let viewers in on this unique experience.”

Saturday’s championship game will include at least four players with NBA experience and be officiated by Division I refs. Team Barstool has been favored since they entered the competition, but after winning their first matchup by 27, their last three have been decided by 7 points or less. Notre Dame Fighting Alumni, on the other hand, is blowing teams out by an average of 16 points per contest.

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Team Barstool’s scoring tandem of Dahntay Jones (21.8 ppg) and Matt Walsh (18.6 ppg) has shouldered the offensive load so far. Jones—if you’ve forgotten—has the ability to do this:

Andre Barrett (8.8 apg) is Team Barstool’s facilitator; Josh Boone (8.8 rpg) and Justin Burrel (7.4 rpg) lay the interior and protect the rim.

Notre Dame Fighting Alumni offer a more balanced scoring attack, with six players averaging double figures. Under the tutelage of Coach Mike Brey at the University of Notre Dame, the Fighting Alumni have displayed exceptional passing and ball-movement. Although outmatched in athleticism, Notre Dame Fighting Alumni’s inside/outside offense may give Team Barstool a daunting challenge along the perimeter.

In a way it’s pros versus college. In a way it’s not at all what we expected but precisely what we wanted: two rosters brimming with talent, fighting for the inaugural purse.

“We know them,” Chris Thomas said of Team Barstool. “They’ve been on TV. They’ve had big contracts. Their players are good as any players in this tournament. So we just have to put five guys on the court that are going to play together and play hard on defense. We expect to win. We’re here now and we didn’t come this far to lose.”