Old games have been watched. Documentaries have been made. There are only so many walks we can take. Sports fans are itching for live competition, and Syracuse fans are getting it this summer.
Boeheim‚Äôs Army, an SU alumni basketball team, has competed in The Basketball Tournament for the past six years. The bracket is typically made up of 64 teams with four regional host sites. Boeheim‚Äôs Army was supposed to host one of the regions at SRC Arena on the campus of Onondaga Community College.
This year the field is whittled down to 24 teams, condensed to one site, played over 10 days and is closed to fans. Players will be tested for COVID-19, and will be forced to self-quarantine for two weeks before travelling to the host site. They will be tested again upon arrival, five days after entry and before they leave.¬†
Despite the restrictions, Boeheim‚Äôs Army General Manager Kevin Belbey says the team‚Äôs urgency is higher than ever.
‚ÄúI think our guys are just ready to get off their couch and play basketball,‚Äù Belbey said. ‚ÄúEverybody‚Äôs just stuck inside. Our guys are ready to play…. A lot of these guys have come up to me and said ‚ÄòI want to play‚Äô. Normally it‚Äôs me trying to get them.‚Äù
Belbey believes the safety procedures are stricter than what the NBA will enact this summer. Opposing teams are prohibited from coming into contact off of the floor, and practices can‚Äôt be held prior to the tournament.
‚ÄúYou might see some other teams that don‚Äôt show up in great shape. We are really putting an onus on our guys to workout individually every day, whether it’s running, hopping on a Peloton bike or dribbling in their driveway.‚Äù
Head Coach Ryan Blackwell may also hold virtual practices over Zoom.
Boeheim‚Äôs Army has a couple of new players to integrate virtually. Tyler Lydon, who was instrumental in SU‚Äôs 2016 Final Four run, and former five-star Chris McCullough will be making their TBT debuts. McCullough was set to play for Boeheim‚Äôs Army last season until he was offered a contract in the Philippines, where he led his team to the PBA Championship.¬†
‚Äú[Chris McCullough] is talented enough to be an NBA starter,‚Äù Belbey said. ‚ÄúHe can do almost anything on the basketball court. He can dribble, shoot, pass, rebound, defend inside, defend perimeter players. He‚Äôs just the model of the way basketball is trending towards. I would be comfortable with him bringing the ball up‚Ä¶. He could be the most talented player in the tournament.‚Äù
McCullough is one of the young guns Belbey believes will have a fresh awareness of the 2-3 Zone and complement the experienced core of Eric Devendorf and recent commit Demitris Nichols. The 35 year old led Boeheim‚Äôs Army in scoring in each of his first two summers, but missed last year with an injury.
‚ÄúHe‚Äôs so mature. He‚Äôs so professional. He has this quiet confidence about him. He does whatever it takes to win,‚Äù Belbey said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs slapping his hands on the floor on defense. On offense he can make a shot from anywhere. He forces others to elevate their game.‚Äù
The roster is up to seven players, which is the league minimum. In addition to Nichols, Devendorf, McCullough and Lydon, Malachi Richardson, Brandon Triche and John Gillon will suit up in Orange again this summer. The roster already includes four players with NBA experience and three former first round picks.
Belbey is keeping his cards close, not revealing the next addition to the team. He expects the announcement to come at the beginning of next week. However, he will give Syracuse legend Carmelo Anthony a call in case the Portland Trailblazers do not resume their season.
The Basketball Tournament is scheduled to be played in late July into early August, which is when the NBA is rumored to be planning a return.