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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, June 20, 2019 1:00 am

Local basketball team again chasing $2 million pot

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

The Fort Wayne Champs will again be in The Basketball Tournament, a winner-take-all $2 million event, and there's another strong presence of former Mad Ants players on the squad.

The Champs will open the single-elimination TBT, an event in which anyone can enter, at 3 p.m. July 19 in Lexington, Kentucky. The Champs feature five players who have played for the Mad Ants, including Stephan Hicks and Trey McKinney Jones, who both ascended to the NBA for short stints over the last two seasons.

The other former Mad Ants are Matt Bouldin, who helped Fort Wayne to the 2014 G League championship, Gary Talton and Travis Leslie, who has NBA experience with the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I think it's by far our most talented squad,” said Garrett Martz, the Champs' general manager, who is vice president of Fort Wayne's Potter Sports Group, which represents professional basketball players.

“It's the most guys in their prime, or going into their prime, that we've had as pros. I feel really good about it. The thing about the tournament is a lot of teams are really, really good and it can be a crapshoot who can win that one game. But I think we have the talent to win the whole thing, the talent to win any game.”

There are two other teams with Fort Wayne ties among the TBT favorites: Eberlein Drive, whose general manager, Matt Mitchell, is a Blackhawk Christian graduate; and Carmen's Crew, which has Fort Wayne native Deshaun Thomas.

Other former Mad Ants are in the field, including Jordan Crawford with Boeheim's Army, made up of mostly Syracuse alumni.

Rounding out the Champs roster are Julian Mavunga, who played in Japan after starring for the Champs en route to their spot in the final 16 last summer; Brandon Gilbeck, a 7-foot center who led the nation in blocks for Western Illinois last season; Rion Brown; Cameron Jackson; and Levi Bradley.

“We have an advantage in that a lot of these guys have played together, like Travis Leslie, Trey and Steph,” Martz said. “And playing in the tournament last year, with that same core, that helps too.”

The Champs reached the semifinals of the tournament in 2015, when they were known as Ants Alumni. They are the No. 3 seed in the Lexington region and will face Showtime in the first round. A victory could mean a matchup with The Bluegrass Boys, a team of Kentucky alumni that includes former Mad Ants player Ramon Harris.

Martz hasn't yet picked a coach for the Champs. Last year, it was former Mad Ants assistant coach Tyler Marsh, who won an NBA title last week with the Toronto Raptors as their assistant video coordinator.

Eberlein, which reached the TBT championship game last year, is the No. 1 seed in the Salt Lake City region with a team that includes James Michael McAdoo, Donald Sloan and Jerome Randle. It plays at 3 p.m. July 25 against Team Utah and is the biggest expected challenge to Overseas Elite, which is seeking a fifth straight title.

Thomas, who played at Bishop Luers, will play for Carmen's Crew. The team of Ohio State alumni is the No. 1 seed in the Columbus, Ohio, region and opens at 7 p.m. July 19 against Illinois BC.

The championship game will be Aug. 6 at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

jcohn@jg.net