What would drive former Michigan and Ohio State basketball players set aside their differences and join forces?
Well, there are two million reasons.
Former Wolverines Duncan Robinson, Mark Donnal, Stu Douglass and Jon Horford will team up with former Buckeyes Andrew Dakich, Jae’Sean Tate and Kam Williams to form Big X and compete in the 2018 edition of The Basketball Tournament.
The TBT, now in its fifth year, is comprised of 72 teams – and mainly former college players – who play in an NCAA-Tournament style, single-elimination bracket until one team is left standing to claim the $2 million prize. All games will be televised on ESPN’s family of networks.
Dakich, a walk-on guard who spent four years at Michigan before finishing his career as a grad transfer at Ohio State this past season, is the one who made the calls and assembled the group of ex-rivals.
“I've always watched the TBT and admired some of the guys who have played,” Dakich told The News on Tuesday. “This is probably my last go-around playing in a tournament that's run with referees, fans and what not. I thought this was the right time for me to do it and to put guys together who played overseas, who might have an opportunity to play overseas, maybe in the G-League, perhaps the NBA. I knew all these guys and it just worked out that way.
“It's weird having Ohio State and Michigan guys, but it's cool at the same time…I understand the hatred for one another, but I know these guys have respect for one another from when they've played against each other over the years.”
Big X — a reference to the Big Ten — also features former Illinois big man Nnanna Egwu and is the first all-conference team of its kind in the TBT. Jay Shunnar, the boys' varsity basketball coach at Ann Arbor Huron High, will be the team’s coach and GM.
However, Dakich noted the roster isn’t set in stone and backups are being lined up in case guys like Robinson and Tate, who could be playing for a contract if they get invited to training camp for an NBA team, have to drop out.
The TBT field includes 18 teams in four regions. Nine spots in each region are awarded to teams with the most online fan support, four are chosen at-large, four can be bought and one is reserved for the previous year’s regional champion.
Big X will compete in the Midwest Region on July 20-22 in Columbus, Ohio. But for that to happen, it will need to earn an automatic bid via fan vote. As of Tuesday afternoon, Big X had 350 supporters and trailed 11 teams in the Midwest.
Fans will have until noon on June 1 to vote for Big X and 10 percent of the prize money goes to the top 201 fans of the winning team.
“It's a unique process having fans be the one that get you in, which could be steered in the wrong direction. We could have Michigan and Ohio State fans vote for us or both not want to vote for us because they don't want to see us play together,” Dakich said with a laugh. “It'll be interesting.”
The TBT field and bracket will be announced on June 6. Until then, Dakich said he’ll continue to ask former teammates, like Michigan’s Moritz Wagner and Spike Albrecht, to help promote the team on social media and drive up its fan support.
And if Big X is one of the 72 teams that gets to play in the event, which starts June 29 with the West Region in Spokane, Wash., Dakich feels his team has as good a chance as any to reach the winner-take-all $2 million championship game on Aug. 3 in Baltimore.
“I wouldn't put a team together if I didn't think we can make a run for it,” Dakich said. “I don't think they'd waste their time coming down to Columbus, Ohio, if they didn't think we could win, too. We're all competitors and it's going to be very challenging.
“You see really good players in this thing who make a lot of money overseas who are known around their country for being really good college basketball players. It'll be a lot of fun and, hopefully, it works out.”