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TBT team “Playing For Jimmy V” looking to win for a great cause

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The squad features some Rutgers alums, as well as several other former successful college basketball players.

Rutgers v Michigan State Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

It may be July, but in just over a week, Rutgers basketball fans will have a team with familiar players on it to root for in game action. The hugely popular, The Basketball Tournament, TBT for short, is back for its sixth summer and for the second time, there will be a Rutgers related team participating.

Former basketball managers Alex Neumann and Matt Johnston, who graduated in 2017 and both were with the Rutgers men’s program all four years they were in school, led Team UKnighted two summers ago. That squad lost a hard fought contest in a play-in game. The good news is that they are back this summer helped with the team Playing For Jimmy V. They made it happen along with two other former Rutgers managers, Vinny Vetrone and JK Schneiderman.

I spoke with Neumann late last week about this year’s team and he explained the purpose behind this edition.

“We did this two years ago and it was more of a Rutgers-centric team then. This year we feature three former Rutgers players, but also have a lot of other guys from the northeast and elsewhere. We wanted to partner with the V Foundation because we have seen how other teams in the past have worked with charitable causes and the support they have garnered has been awesome. We felt the V Foundation would be perfect with the obvious connection of Jim Valvano with Rutgers. We reached out to the organization and they were extremely receptive about it, wanted to do it. It’s obviously a very recognizable foundation, everyone knows who they are. We are using their name and trying to drive the support we are looking for.”

Of course, Jim Valvano and his legacy at Rutgers has been a bright spot for a program that is enduring an almost three decade drought from its last NCAA Tournament appearance. Rutgers honored Valvano by naming the court at the Barn after him a couple of years ago, where those legendary teams of the sixties and seventies played. There is also a tribute for him on a wall in one of the concourses at the RAC. It’s a pretty amazing idea for this year’s TBT Rutgers led entry to honor Valvano and to help support his great foundation.

As for the management side of the team, Neumann explained it’s been a team effort.

“Matt and Vinny are doing the coaching and will handle the x’s and o’s, rotations, etc. during the games. I am considered the GM, but I would say all three of us are equally a part of building this team and finding the players. The three of us cast our net with the connections that we all have as managers and through working at Rutgers and within the AAU circuit. JK Schneiderman was also a manager at Rutgers and he is an assistant coach.”

In regard to the roster, six of the ten players were 1,000 point scorers in their Division I college careers and all have played professionally overseas.

Corey Sanders, Deshawn Freeman and CJ Gettys are the three Rutgers alums on the roster. All three played overseas this past year after having varying degrees of success on the banks. Freeman averaged 11.2 points and 7.3 rebounds in two plus seasons, Gettys averaged 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in one season at Rutgers, while Sanders starred over three years and scored 1370 points during that time, culminating with him being named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team after leading the program throughout his time in Piscataway.

They are joined by several former big time college players in their own right.

Kenny Gaines is a key addition. He scored 1,324 points in his career at Georgia and has played professionally overseas in France and Lithuania. He shot 37.4% from three-point range over four seasons at Georgia. In regard to Gaines, Neumann said “he is a shooter, so he’ll be able to come off screens and hit three’s. We are excited to have him and think he is super under the radar, because he is a really good player and no one is even mentioning him.”

Divine Myles is also on the roster and is the all-time leading scorer at Stetson with 1,845 points and 34.6% career three-point shooter in college. Neumann expressed enthusiasm for him and his teammate from overseas.

“He just played professionally in Kosovo with Bashir Ahmed, who is also on our team. Ahmed played at St. John’s for two seasons and played with Deshawn Freeman at Hutchinson junior college. They are still friends, so that’s how we got him involved. Bashir is a super versatile wing that we think is going to be really important for us. He is a scorer and can defend. Him and Divine also bring chemistry from playing together this past year, as well as Bashir and Deshawn knowing each other for so long.”

Ahmed was actually recruited by Rutgers when Steve Pikiell took over the program, but he went to the Johnnies, were he averaged 12.3 points and 5.1 rebounds over two seasons.

Jason Dunne just graduated from Hartford and is on the team as well. He scored 1,458 career points and shot 35.2% from behind the arc over his four years for the Hawks.

Neumann offered this painful anecdote on Dunne, saying“Rutgers fans probably remember him because he killed us two years ago when Hartford won at the RAC.” Dunne scored 9 second half points in that upset.

Mike Holloway, who scored 1,490 points in his college career, just graduated from FDU and was the third leading scorer on a team that won an NCAA Tournament game before falling to top seeded Gonzaga last March. “He is a big man that can play the 4 or the 5”, said Neumann.

Another FDU alum on the roster is Kinu Rochford, who played for current Rutgers staffer Greg “Shoes” Vetrone, who also father to Vinnie, when he was head coach there several years ago. Rochford is also a forward and averaged almost 15 points per game his senior season there. He has also played professionally in multiple leagues overseas.

Joel Hernandez is a guard who played at LIU-Brooklyn and averaged 20.5 points per game during the 2017-2018 season. He scored 1,429 points in his career. “He is a tough guard who can also play the wing”, said Neumann. “He just had a strong season playing professionally in South Korea. He can get to the rim and score, as well as defend.”

Update:

Overall, Playing for Jimmy V has put together an intriguing roster that will look to surprise people at The Basketball Tournament. “We like our team, it’s super well-rounded”, said Neumann. “We have a lot of shooters and the roster is guard-centric. The Tournament is that way, if you don’t have guards that can score you aren’t likely to go far. We also have CJ and Mike down low who can defend in the paint.”

Playing for Jimmy V will be competing in TBT’s Syracuse Regional at Onondaga Community College’s SRC Arena from July 26th to 28th. The team is seeded sixth in the region and will take on third-seeded Team Brotherly Love on Friday, July 26th at 1 p.m. ET on WatchESPN. If they were to win, Playing for Jimmy V would return Saturday, July 27th to play the winner of Armored Athlete and Team Draddy (Manhattan College alumni) at 2 p.m. ET on WatchESPN. The championship game of the Syracuse Regional will be on Sunday, July 28th at 1 p.m. ET on ESPN.

If Playing for Jimmy V wins their region, they’ll move on to Chicago to compete for the $2 million prize from August 1st-6th at Wintrust Arena. If you are interested in attending any TBT games, you can purchase them at http://thetournament.com/tickets.

If Playing for Jimmy V does win the championship, they will donate $50,000 of the winning prize to the V Foundation.

The Tournament does not pay expenses for the teams in regional action, so Neumann and the management team are trying to raise money, both for travel expense and to donate to the V Foundation before they even begin playing.

“We have a go fund me page to raise money for our expenses”, said Neumann. “25% of the donations are going straight to the V Foundation. The rest is to cover for expenses, as the Tournament doesn’t cover anything for the first weekend. We are flying guys in, hotel rooms, travel costs in general. We are hoping for support with that.”

You can contribute to the team’s go fund me page here.

Before the team travels to Syracuse, they will be holding practices next Tuesday through Thursday in South Jersey. If you are interested in attending, email Alex at Aneumann23@gmail.com for more information. All fans are welcomed to attend.

Lastly, the team was fortunate to have one of the best uniform designs in the Tournament. Puma is the official designer for all of the teams participating and while Playing for Jimmy V didn’t have a say in the design, they are very happy with how they came out. Neumann said, “the uniforms are awesome, we feel like we got the best one’s of any in The Basketball Tournament. They look really cool.”

Here they are:

Good luck to Playing for Jimmy V next week at the Syracuse Regional. They enter this year’s field as a heavy underdog, but I think Neumann and company have put together a roster that can certainly score and play an up tempo style. Hopefully, they can make a run and prove the tournament committee wrong with the seeding they were given. I’ll have game recaps for every round they play in. No matter what happens on the court, they deserve a lot of credit for honoring a Rutgers legend and playing for such a great cause.

About The Basketball Tournament

TBT is a 64-team, single elimination summer tournament airing on ESPN where the winning team takes home $2 million. TBT’s 2019 format divides a 64-team field into eight regions for Rounds 1-3, with each region seeded 1-8. The last team standing will claim a winner-take-all prize of $2 million and the champion of each regional will receive a cash prize equal to 25% of the ticket sales of that particular region.