COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Buckeye basketball teams of the Thad Matta era turned out remarkable talent, and perhaps even more impressive relationships.
“It is family. That was one thing that Coach Matta made a priority from day one,” said former OSU center Dallas Lauderdale. “We spent so much time together that it did not feel right when we were not together.”
And that’s why years later, with many of the former Buckeyes at the latter end of their professional basketball careers, they still remain a team.
Last year, the Carmen’s Crew team won the TBT, the annual summer basketball tournament with a $2 million dollar prize to the winner. They plan on defending their title this summer, but this week that process became more complicated.
“This is just a different circumstance for everyone. With our guys, it’s always been about our families first,” said Carmen’s Crew guard Jon Diebler. “I don’t think anyone on our team would do anything to jeopardize the health of our families but as of right now, everyone’s committed to playing, and this is something that we look forward to every summer just because it gives us an opportunity for all of us to play on the same team again.”
This week, the TBT organizers announced major changes to the event, shrinking the field from 64 teams to 24.
The tournament will be staged over 10 days in a single city, and players will be subject to two weeks of quarantining together and regular health screenings before the tournament begins. Suddenly, the tournament will require those players to be away from their young families for three to possibly six weeks. The tournament has yet to announce a schedule. Originally, the TBT finals were set to be played in Dayton.
Diebler and his wife had twins, a boy and girl, this past fall, and Diebler did not play professionally in Turkey this past year as he recovered from a knee procedure. He played in Turkey the past seven seasons.
“I’ve been fortunate and blessed to spend every day with my wife and my son and daughter for the last nine months and I’ve loved every second of it . . . so [being away] would be difficult,” Diebler said. “Most of the guys on our team have families, and I think if you ask individually each person . . . I’m more worried about my family when I’m done playing.”
Forward David Lighty has a young son. Guard Aaron Craft has a child at home, and he’s planning to enter medical school at OSU in August. Coach Jared Sullinger and his wife welcomed twins last year.
“Every team involved with the TBT this year is willing to take a sacrifice,” Lauderdale said.
Lauderdale and fellow forward Evan Ravenel are still playing professionally (Canada for Lauderdale and Argentina for Ravenel). Neither is married nor has children, so they’re eager to play and get the Buckeye band back together. “We have more fun in the summertime than we do in a regular season at our respective countries… what the TBT has done for us is allow us to continue to do what we’ve been doing, just make some money doing it.” Lauderdale says.
Ravenel has been at home in Tampa with his family since the start of the pandemic. He says he’s eager to get another chance to shine in front of a national audience.
“I’m a glass half full type guy, so I look at the positive. There’s no sports going on essentially… playing the TBT could make history.” Ravenel says. “If you’re looking for a place to showcase yourself and get out there as far as basketball goes with nothing going on I feel like this is the best case scenario.”
And if one of the players decides to back out, Diebler says they’ll be met with support. “We’re all family anyway, so if someone was like hey I don’t feel comfortable doing this then I don’t think that would be an issue. No hard feelings.” he says.
Motivation to play should be simple. After the players won the championship game in 2019, they returned to their locker room and saw an instant transfer in their bank accounts. Most of the players took home $140-thousand as their share of the winnings. “When you get a 100K transfer in one night, that does something to you. We were like little kids in that locker room, jumping around… it took me back to the Big Ten championships we won and how exciting those times were.” Lauderdale says.
Other former Buckeyes expected to join the team include William Buford and Lenzelle Smith Jr., along with former Otterbein star Jeff Gibbs. Diebler says he’s had to rely on a neighbor’s outdoor hoop to get shots up during the pandemic, but he thinks he’ll be physically prepared to get back on the court. It’s unclear where the team will practice since they will not likely have access to OSU’s courts this summer. Lauderdale says he’s taken up cycling while at home in Cleveland during the pandemic.
“I don’t think anyone’s in game shape because you don’t get that unless you’re playing games,” Diebler said.
“It is totally different… there’s no way you can simulate basketball shape with anything that you do except I playing basketball,” Lauderdale said.