Basketball

The Basketball Tournament coming to Lexington. Team of ex-Cats to vie for $2 million.

Behind the scenes at ESPN’s “College GameDay” on its visit to Kentucky’s Rupp Arena

ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams talks about his day on the "GameDay" set with the crew in Lexington for Saturday's Kansas vs. Kentucky matchup.
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ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Williams talks about his day on the "GameDay" set with the crew in Lexington for Saturday's Kansas vs. Kentucky matchup.

For the first time in The Basketball Tournament’s five-year history, Lexington will be one of eight regional host sites for the $2 million annual event that will air on ESPN this summer.

The Basketball Tournament will include Lexington regional host, the Bluegrass Boys, a to-be-named team of former University of Kentucky players. Lexington games will be played at Frederick Douglass High School, July 19-21.

Eight Regional winners advance to Championship Weekend in Chicago, Aug. 1-6. The field typically includes current pros, college alumni teams, international basketball stars, ex-NBA players, future NBA players and others competing in a single-elimination winner-take-all five-on-five tournament. Anyone can apply to enter a team in the 64-team bracket. The application period opens March 1, and the full TBT bracket will be announced June 11.

“The experience of playing in front of the best fans in the country is something that our players carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Kentucky Coach John Calipari said in a press release announcing this year’s event. “Kentucky is special to every single one of them, so it doesn’t surprise me that they are coming back to compete in Lexington again. I have no doubt that they’ll feel the passion and support of Big Blue Nation — or that they’ll give that same passion back with how they compete on the court.”

This is the first year, TBT is admitting eight “host” teams before opening its application period, hoping for “memorable, college-like atmospheres” for home and visiting teams for Rounds 1-3, according to the release. Each of the eight regional champions will earn a prize equal to 25 percent of that region’s ticket sales, also a first for the event.

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Former national college player of the year Jimmer Fredette, who most recently has been playing professionally in China, led his team to the semifinals of The Basketball Tournament last summer and is expected to have a team again this year. Bill Kostroun AP

Last year, more than 60 players with NBA experience played in TBT, including multiple former lottery picks, NBA champions and All-Stars. Sixteen TBT 2017 players signed deals with NBA teams in 2017-18. The event has been won for four out of its five years by an “Overseas Elite” team of pros who will return to defend their title. Its regional site has not been named.

“One of the things we’ve tapped into is the passion college basketball fans have for their former players,” said Jon Mugar, founder and CEO of TBT. “We’ve also found that visiting teams have a blast playing in front of raucous crowds cheering against them. This year’s regional hosts include some of college basketball’s most passionate fan bases.”

Regional competitions also will be held in: Columbus, hosted by Ohio State Alumni — July 19-21; Greensboro, N.C., hosted by Team CP3 (Chris Paul’s team) — July 19-21; Memphis, hosted by Memphis State (Memphis Alumni) — July 19-21; Salt Lake City, hosted by Team Fredette (Jimmer Fredette’s team) — July 25-27; Wichita, hosted by AfterShocks (Wichita State Alumni) — July 25-28; Syracuse, hosted by Boeheim’s Army (Syracuse Alumni) — July 26-28; and Richmond, hosted by Ram Nation (VCU Alumni) — July 26-28.

“We are proud to partner with TBT to bring this unique and exciting event to our community, a city and state with unmatched passion for college basketball” said Brian Miller, Bluegrass Sports Commission President and CEO. “Over its first five years, The Basketball Tournament has proven that there is elite-level basketball being played outside of the NBA and we think Lexington, Kentucky, is an ideal setting for this event.”

In addition, fans are eligible for 10 percent of the prize, $200,000, through a corresponding contest. Learn more at TheTournament.com.

The Bluegrass Boys last played in TBT in 2016 and included Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, Perry Stevenson, Kevin Galloway, Shagari Alleyne and Erik Daniels. Entered as the tournament’s No. 1 seed, the Bluegrass Boys were upset in the round of 16 that year.

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