The Ballinteers, a Tennessee basketball alumni team, begins its play in The Basketball Tournament (TBT) Friday night in Columbus. TBT is a 64-team single elimination tournament with a $1 million prize.
2003 SEC Player of the Year Ron Slay will coach the 12-person Ballinteers team and class of 2010 point guard Bobby Maze is the team general manager.
The roster includes players from the Bruce Pearl, Cuonzo Martin and Rick Barnes’ era and two players who didn’t play at Tennessee-Knoxville. The full roster includes JaJuan Smith, Skyle McBee, Chris Lofton, Jeronne Maymon, Wayne Chism, Duke Crews, Lamonte Turner, Tyler Smith, Cam Tatum, John Fields, Josh Selby (Kansas) and Kevin Bridewaters (Chattanooga).
The Ballinteers planned to play in the TBT last season but decided to push it off a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of it had to do with COVID restrictions,” Ballinteers head coach Ron Slay said. “The guys that we were getting to play were coming home from overseas and they were in a bubble already so going into the TBT they were going to have to be in a bubble again and a lot of them weren’t comfortable with that part of it. Coming out of a bubble in Europe, going into another bubble and getting out of that bubble and only having a couple weeks before they had to go back overseas to spend with their families so we just decided that it wasn’t going to be the right time. People were nursing injuries and things of that nature so it just made sense to put it off for another year.”
Tennessee fans got an early look at the Ballinteers, and other former Vols, Fourth of July weekend at William Blount where the group hosted an alumni game. On top of the Ballinteers in the event, former Tennessee stars Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield, Kyle Alexander, Robert Hubbs and Jordan McRae attended.
“It was something we all walked away from and had the same thoughts,” Slay said of the alumni game. “We need to do this more, not only for the fans but for us to be around each other. The old eras, the new eras, you have guys that are still playing and guys that are committed to go there now in B.J. Edwards and (Brandon) Huntley-Hatfield and those guys. It was good to be around them and good for the younger generation to see the love that the fans give. This was the Fourth of July weekend and no one had to be there. People coming out and showing love and showing that this is a brotherhood.”
As of the alumni game, the Ballinteers had not practiced yet, but Sunday was the first day of a four day training camp in Knoxville for the team before they leave for Columbus Thursday. Emphasis during the training camp will be on putting plays in, deciding defensive philosophies and getting used to the different rules in TBT.
The tournament has four nine minute quarters, each player gets six fouls and there’s a bonus at five fouls each quarter. However, the major rule change in the Elam Ending.
At the first dead ball under the four minute mark in the game, the clock will be turned off and the teams will play to a set score eight points ahead of the leading team.
If you follow someone on the floor in the bonus during the Elam Ending, the player will shoot one free throw and the team gets the ball back.
“As far as the Elam Ending, that right there is what changes the game for people,” Slay said. “You have to get up and get those extra seven points and you have to do it before the other team gets in. It’s good to get out ahead but it’s also good to pace yourself and be able to execute in the half court. All those buckets matter. It ain’t just about transition— getting up-and-down. It’s about when you try to reach that elam ending, every bucket, every turnover, every rebound, every free throw, everything counts. So knowing what that means is the biggest difference. That’s the mental part of the game people aren’t used to. I think having veteran guys, that should bode well for us.”
As for the offensive philosophy, the Ballinteers will bolster Doug Collins’ Michael Jordan philosophy.
“Knowing who the offense is geared around, I’m sure everyone knows it’s Chris Lofton,” Slay said with a laugh. “That part shouldn’t be hard.”
As for the rest of the team, Slay believes the veteran presence will bode well for the Ballinteers ability to play together and do the little things well.
“I think the older guys adapt,” Slay said. “They have that veteran presence and have played in different leagues and know what it takes to win. You know what you have to do. … I think playing at Tennessee makes it easier. A lot of people who went through those ranks and played at Tennessee know you’re not always going to be that guy. You get the opportunity to play with Chris Lofton— he’s that guy. Especially offensively.”
“You have other parts of the game that can be impacted and that’s why we have a guy like Tyler Smith. He doesn’t care about who gets the glory but you’ll look up at the end of the stat sheet and he has 10-10-10-and-10. A quadruple double. You need those guys and he’s a guy who’s going to be a leader for us and we’re going to lean on him heavily.”
The Ballinteers earned a nine-seed in the 16-team Columbus Region. The alumni team will face off with “Men of Mackey” a Purdue alumni team in the first round of the tournament. Tip-off Friday night is set for 7 p.m. ET and will be broadcast on ESPN.
More on the former Vols versus former Boilermakers matchup later in the week.