The Basketball Tournament in the national spotlight starting Saturday

Dayton alums just happy to get back on the court

Kyle Davis had just returned to the United States after his second season in Argentina when he lost the man he calls dad or pops to COVID-19.

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Steve Hudson, a longtime assistant for the Mac Irvin Fire, a Chicago AAU team, died April at 51. He attended every big game Davis played for the Dayton Flyers from 2014-17. Davis said Hudson was always there for him. Indiana’s Archie Miller, the Dayton coach during Davis’ four seasons, paid tribute to Hudson on Twitter after his death, saying he had the biggest heart he’d ever seen.

On Father’s Day, Davis found the words to describe his emotions.

“I love you and miss you every day,” Davis wrote, “but I’m sure you’re looking down on me and the rest of us, smiling and laughing because you’re in a better place. I’m grateful for everything you’ve done for me in the time you spent on Earth. I love you and miss you. Happy Father’s Day to the greatest dad in my eyes.”

In the three months since, Davis said he has bottled up his emotions, but he’ll get to play for Hudson’s memory next week in The Basketball Tournament as a member of the Dayton alumni team, the Red Scare.

“Just stepping out on that court is big for me,” Davis said. “It’ll just get my mind off everything.”

In the spotlight

The Basketball Tournament, a $1 million winner-takes-all event with 24 teams, starts Saturday with four games at Nationwide Arena. They will be the first nationally-televised live basketball games in the United States since March 12 when conference tournaments across the country were cancelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

The Red Scare debuts in the round of 16 at 2 p.m. Wednesday against the winner of Big X, which features Big Ten alums, and D2, a group of former Division II stars. Those teams play in the first game at 3 p.m Saturday. All 23 games, including the championship game on July 14, will be televised on ESPN.

For TBT founder and CEO Jon Mugar, just getting to the point where there will be basketball has been a massive undertaking.

“We never thought we’d be in a position where we would be the first basketball played in the country since March 12 on TV,” Mugar said Thursday. “We carry that with a lot of responsibility. It’s not something we’re enjoying. But it’s certainly adding a spotlight to the event that we’re not used to.”

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Players must pass two COVID-19 tests before even arriving at the event. They are tested again during the check-in process at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Columbus and then enter quarantine for 24 hours. They have to pass four more tests before their first game.

The Jackson TN Underdawgs, who were scheduled to play Big X in the first round, had to withdraw from the tournament Wednesday after a player tested positive. The D2 team took their place. Another team, Best Virginia, withdrew in June because a player had tested positive. That team had been practicing together.

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The TBT put its quarantine plan in place in the spring when cases were declining in many parts of the United States. It’s starting the tournament with cases skyrocketing.

“We’re looking at 50,000 cases a day across the country,” Mugar said, “and a lot of them are in our player and staff demographic. It adds a lot of stress to the plan we put in place, but we built it very strict for that reason.”

A different experience

The Red Scare players were scheduled to arrive in Columbus on Friday, five days before their game, and they won’t get to see each other until the 24-hour quarantine period ends. Even then, they won’t get to socialize with the other teams.

Ryan Mikesell and Trey Landers, seniors on the 2019-20 Flyers and the youngest members of the Red Scare, won’t get to talk to former teammate Xeyrius Williams, who’s playing for Mid-American Unity, in person unless the teams meet at some point on the court.

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Mikesell has been working out all spring in preparation for a pro career, though he doesn’t know when or where that will begin because of the pandemic, so he had no issues signing up for the extra measures players will have to go through to play in this tournament.

“I’m obviously excited to get to play basketball again,” Mikesell said, “but it’s going to be different playing without fans in such a competitive environment. The last time I played in a competitive environment was Senior Night. It’s been two or three months for me. I’m excited to get out there. I think it’ll be a little sloppy at the beginning, but hopefully we can find a rhythm as the games go on and make a run at the championship.”

Devin Oliver, whose putback dunk after a missed layup by Davis won a second-round game at Capital University last summer, also had no hesitation signing up for this event. He didn’t have access to a gym at home in Kalamazoo, Mich., for almost three months after returning from France, where he played last season.

“I was just so excited for the opportunity to competitively play,” Oliver said.

Oliver, Kyle Davis, Mikesell and Landers join fellow former Flyers Rob Lowery, Jalen Robinson and Darrell Davis. Former Louisville guard Ryan McMahon and former Ohio State center Trevor Thompson fill out the roster.

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“I really love the assortment of guys we’ve got,” Oliver said. “I love having Trey and Ryan. They didn’t get what they fully deserved at the end of their season, so I know they’ll be ready to fly around and play hard. It’s always good to have my guy Kyle here. Baby D (Darrell Davis) will be there. I think adding Rob Lowery is going to be big for us because a lot of this tournament is about big-guard play and Rob is a veteran.”

Last year, the Red Scare won two games before losing to Carmen’s Crew, an Ohio State alumni team starring Aaron Craft that went on to win the championship. The Red Scare and Carmen’s Crew will play in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m July 10 if they win their first games.

If the Red Scare wins the tournament, players will make between $100,000 and $163,636, and that money will be deposited directly in their individual bank accounts with an app called Zelle. The opportunity to earn that kind of paycheck is a big motivation, but Davis said he always played for the fans first during his years with the Flyers and will do so at the TBT even if it closed to fans because of the pandemic.

“We know they’re going to be watching on ESPN,” Davis said, “and also we’re basketball players. If you can’t come out and perform without a crowd, then to me you’re not a basketball player.”

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