By Tom Ballato
The Basketball Tournament (TBT) last summer ended with Overseas Elite defeating Eberlein Drive in the title game, taking home both the 2018 title (their fourth consecutive title) and the two million dollar prize. Runner-up Eberlein Drive are planning to regroup and are anxiously waiting until they get their next opportunity.
Eberlein Drive was founded by Jake Hirschmann, who entered and played with his friends in the very first TBT Tournament. The original members of Eberlein Drive grew up, and their families still live on, Eberlein Drive. It is a cul-de-sac in Fraser, Michigan.
After the first tournament, Hirschmann reached out to Matt Mitchell who played in the tournament too. Mitchell played college basketball at Olivet Nazarene University, a NAIA level school in Illinois. They both saw the best opportunity to succeed in the TBT would be in a front office role. Before year two of the TBT Tournament, Jake reached out to Matt and asked if he would consider helping him build the team. Jake and his friends would help secure the votes needed for the team to earn entrance to the tournament and Matt would recruit and fill out the roster.
“It seemed like a good match and we haven’t looked back since.” – Matt Mitchell
Eberlein Drive has been around since the very first tournament. In 2017, they changed their team name to the Stickmen. The Stickmen were a combination of Eberlein Drive and actor/booster Michael Rappaport. They changed their name back and are going to continue to build their own identity going forward.
With chemistry playing an important role in the TBT Tournament, Mitchell emphasized, “Eberlein Drive is looking forward to bringing the core group of players back in 2019 and I feel their chemistry will be even stronger than last year”.
I spoke to general manager Matt Mitchell about his role on the team and the future of the team going forward.
As far as filling out the roster, you’ve had your share of former college and NBA players. Talent is one thing, but what goes into it that makes you feel certain players can work together for such a short period of time?
I’ve been doing this for five years now and have learned a lot. Early on, I thought I needed to have the biggest and most marketable names, which I thought would help me earn entrance into the tournament encase of the voting aspect of the TBT. Just because someone has NBA experience or at one time was a very good player, it didn’t necessarily mean our team would function as a cohesive unit in such a short period of time.
My strategy has changed quiet a bit. Clearly we have to have a talented roster and as your can tell, our roster this year was by far our best and arguably the best in the entire field. However what I’ve realized is most important is finding the “right players”. Character, leadership, and a team first mindset are all the things that I analyze now when we build out the roster.
You’ve had Donald Sloan, Renaldo Balkman, Lou Amundson, Willie Reed, Alex Kirk, and James Michael Mcadoo to name a few of the NBA talent, who are some other players that have been mainstays and really excelled for Eberlein Drive over the years?
Justin Dentmon was a phenomenal players for us two years ago. Unfortunately, he had an injury that didn’t allow for him to join us this past year. Another guy that hasn’t played the last two season, but will go down as one of the best in Eberlein history and was on some of our earlier teams, is Tyler Laser. Tyler doesn’t have the same NBA level pedigree that others do, but he is a very talented overseas player. However, he is an awesome leader and fierce competitor. One of the more vital players we’ve ever had is Jerome Randle. He is one of the most hard nosed players I have ever seen. He is a winner and with him as our point guard, I’m confident in our chances no matter who we face! Jerome will have a spot on our roster as long as he’d like.
You guys signed Willie Reed last summer. Before Reed signed on, did you have any other player signings in the works?
Yes, to be honest, Willie was one of our very last roster additions. Him joining our teams did not necessarily affect the signed of any other player. Each year we start with hundreds of contacts and targets, and whittle that down. It is not far-fetched when I say that I believe with the discussions I have and the number of quality players interested in playing, that I could fill out multiple rosters and good ones at that.
With that said, our goal and desire is to return the majority of our roster from 2018. There will be a few exceptions for obvious reason, like the retirement of Lou Amundson. He may still be involved with our team in some capacity as he has come to really enjoy the event and was an integral part of our roster.
How do you prepare the team to be ready in a short period of time? Is there anything you want to share with us about Eberlein Drive that most fan don’t see?
Ideally, we would have a 1-2 week mini camp prior to the tournament every summer. However that has not happened to date. We have been lucky to get 1-2 days with everyone involved. We have plans to do exactly that this year and think it will pay off.
As far as preparing for games in a short time, I cannot take all the credit for that. We have a great team around us and fortunate to have coach David Nurse on staff with us. He does a phenomenal job and always comes prepared. As far as scouting and video for our players to review, I need to give a shout out to Zach Hopp. Zach has become a friend of mine through the TBT and is a student at Kansas. Last year he served as a lead scout and video coordinator for our team. He was staying up ’round the clock to study game film to review prior to each game.
Jake and I are very blessed to some some great guys around us.