Elijah Johnson thinks he’s formed a 10-player University of Kansas alumni squad that’s capable of making a serious run in the 64-team The Basketball Tournament.
“I think that we have a team that can win it,” Johnson, a former KU combo guard and the alumni team’s combo guard/general manager, said of Self Made — a unit that will take on Sideline Cancer in a first-round TBT contest at 6 p.m., Thursday, at Wichita State’s Koch Arena. It will be shown on ESPN.
A victory in that game would vault KU into a second-round contest against either a team of Wichita State or Iowa alums at 3 p.m., Saturday, at Koch. Another victory would mean a round of 16 contest at 3 p.m., Sunday, perhaps against a Kansas State alumni team (if KSU also wins two games) again in Wichita.
The winner of the regional will advance to the quarterfinals the following week in Chicago where eight teams from various regionals will battle for the winner-take-all, $2 million top prize.
“We’ve got to stay clear of injury and then be smart and do what we do. I always think we have a chance to make a deep run. That’s not even a question to make a deep run. We can always do that,” Johnson said. “Sometimes we fall short. Sometimes we don’t. After talking to some of the guys, I feel good right now.”
The KU alumni team has four guards and six frontcourt players on the roster. The guards are: Johnson, Tyshawn Taylor, Jeremy Case and Travis Releford. The forwards are Perry Ellis, Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Mario Little, Landen Lucas and Kevin Young.
“Right now, we’ve got guards. We’ve got guys who can shoot the ball. We’ve got defenders. We’ve got bigs. I think we look good,” Johnson said.
The KU team is serious about its first appearance in the sixth-annual TBT. The 10 players have congregated in Lawrence for training camp, which will run Saturday until Wednesday.
Fans are invited to meet members of the Self Made squad from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, at Jefferson’s West (1540 Wakarusa Drive) in Lawrence.
“We’ll try to get fans out to Jefferson’s so they know about the TBT,” Johnson said. “We’ll sell a few shirts, do a podcast there. It’s a time for us to chat, have conversations with different people, fans, whoever wants to attend. Buy a T-shirt, buy some food, hang out with us from 3 to 6.”
Johnson said it’s an exciting time.
“I am very happy it’s here,” he said of TBT time. “It’s basketball at the end of July. We’ve never had this before. It’s different for us.”
Back in April, Johnson indicated: “I felt this (organizing TBT team) would be a great opportunity to give basketball back to the state of Kansas in the summer when it’s pretty dry regarding current stuff and not much going on in general.
“They (TBT organizers) have been working on transitioning it into an alumni event. It kind of worked out piggybacking off the NCAA Tournament. I played in it three times so they thought I was a good person to reach out to see if KU was interested (in being GM). I reached out to a couple guys. We got up to 18, 19 people on the roster at one period of time. We had to cut to nine, 10 people. I’m comfortable with the number. I think it’s a good number for everybody to play the minutes they want to play.”
Johnson noted that the NBA scouts the games.
“This platform is bigger than trying to win $2 million,” Johnson said. “The last few years, it’s helped people get NBA contracts more than the summer league. It’s also a platform to showcase talent and represent where we come from. Of all the people to represent, who better than Kansas?”
KU’s initial opponent in the win-or-go-home tournament, Sideline Cancer, has a roster made up of Remy Abell, Xavier; Kevin Bracy-Davis, Davis and Elkins College; Raymond Cowels, Santa Clara; Maurice Creek, George Washington; Duane Johnson, East Stroudsburg University; Marcus Keene, Central Michigan; Aron Nwankwo, Pittsburgh; Kevin Olekaibe, UNLV; Charles Parker, Millersville and Zwencyl Upson, Southern Louisiana.