By Tom Ballato
When it comes to the $2 million dollar TBT Tournament (The Basketball Tournament), there are no freebies. You bring your A game or you go home. Simple as that.
For Eberlein Drive their story originates from the very first TBT where they got blown out. Following that season, the general manager of Eberlein Drive Jacob Hirschmann, joined forces with Matt Mitchell to run the team. This became a decision that would change the direction of the team and forge a lifelong friendship.
Last year, Eberlein Drive were runners up of the whole tournament and received an automatic bid into this year’s tournament. They were placed in the Salt Lake City Regional, a region that was stacked from top to bottom. The regional featured two Utah teams (Team Utah and Utah Stallions), a Drew League team (LA Cheaters), Team Fredette, Team Challenge ALS, Sons of Westwood (UCLA alumni team) and CitiTeam Blazers.
Eberlein Drive’s Roster featured guards Donald Sloan, Jerome Randle, Pat Miller, Osiris Eldridge and forwards Orlando Johnson, Taylor Braun, Kenny Kadji, Keith Benson and Malik Dime.
After speaking with GM Matt Mitchell early last year, he invited me out to cover and follow the team around during the tournament. The team is built around family. They are returning key pieces from last year’s tournament run and have filled out the rest of the roster with respected players that have played around the world. Mitchell explained the process of finding the right pieces that fit the culture “isn’t easy”.
When I arrived at the hotel, the team was at breakfast from 8:30-9:30 AM. While the team was eating the coaches David Nurse and Zachary Hopp were going over the game plan for #8 seed Team Utah. Players arrived at 12:30 PM for a team meeting before heading to the arena to play at 3 PM.
During the meeting, coach Nurse went over scouting reports and the game plan. Players listened and then spoke about what they needed to do during the game (limit three-pointers and keeping the ball out of certain player’s hands). What stood out was David Nurse’s speech. He spoke about the team and how they have been overlooked in their careers and now they need to go out to show everyone what they can do. At the conclusion of the meeting Osiris Eldridge said, “It’s about the team. What we do, we do this together.” This spoke volumes on the culture of this constructed team.
The game against Team Utah was a battle. Team Utah’s team featured former NBA player Ronnie Price who hadn’t played in two years, Dakarai Tucker and Shaun Green (their three point specialist). Eberlein Drive struggled to execute their game plan and Green found a way to shoot three pointers. The game was close throughout the first half. Pat Miller and Osiris Eldridge brought energy and defense off the bench, while Orlando Johnson played a big role on both ends of the floor.
In the second half, Eberlein Drive were down by double digits at one point in the game. They struggled to rebound and gave up second-chance points, but still managed to keep themselves in the game. They entered the Elam Ending down six points.
Team Utah’s Ronnie Price hit a big three to put Utah three points away from victory. Team Utah decided they were going to try to end the game with three instead of going to the rim. Then Donald Sloan drove to the basketball and was fouled. He hit the free throw to tie the game.
Both teams had opportunities to end it before this happened…
Game over: Eberlein Drive 83 Team Utah 80
Interview with Osiris Eldridge:
Eberlein Drive played the LA Cheaters. In the first quarter, Eberlein Drive fell behind 11-3 before David Nurse wisely called a timeout. Patrick Miller and Orlando Johnson were first off the bench and immediately made a defensive impact. Eberlein Drive went on a 6-0 run with baskets from Benson, Miller, and Kadji. Kadji and Benson were great defensively and rebounded the ball.
In the second quarter, Donald Sloan took over. He was fouled twice in the first two minutes of the quarter and went 3 of 4 from the free-throw line. Sloan then knocked down a three-pointer followed by a Randle floater.
Eberlein Drives biggest problem was Will Davis II. He was an issue all game and finished with 27 points and 9 rebounds. He had nice footwork around the rim and Eberlein Drive’s backcourt had a hard time guarding him without fouling.
In the third, Eberlein Drive brought some intensity. Randle hit a three and immediately stole the ball for a quick basket. Osiris Eldridge entered the game for the first time. He sat at the end of the bench in a knee wrap the whole first half. He hit back to back threes after entering the game, but the Cheaters matched Eberlein step for step. The game was tied up at 55 with 5:40 to go in the 3rd quarter.
The quarter finished with a Taylor Braun tip in. Eberlein had a six point lead going into the 4th, 68-62.
The fourth quarter was back and forth and the Cheaters kept it a close game. Elam Ending was set to 85 and Eberlein Drive was in another nail bitter. With Davis II keeping the Cheaters in it, it became a race to 85. Jerome Randle hit some baskets during the Elam Ending.
Both teams were tied at 84 and the next point for either team wins them the game when Jerome Randle sent them to the Salt Lake Regional Finals…
Final Score: Eberlein Drive 86 LA Cheaters 84
Post Game Press Conference:
The final day of the Salt Lake City Regional, Eberlein Drive was set to play Team Challenge ALS. This is a team that Eberlein played and defeated the previous year’s tournament. Challenge ALS had played well so far in the tournament and this was Eberlein Drive biggest task yet.
Fast Forward to the Elam Ending. The ending was set to 68. Team Challenge ALS had a five point lead, 67-62. Eberlein Drive forced a turnover and Jerome Randle made a floater to cut the deficit down to one, 67-66. Back on the other end, Jerome Randle missed a jumper and Orlando Johnson kept the possession alive by tipping the ball to Osiris Eldridge. Eldridge found a cutting Taylor Braun for the game winning layup.
Final: Eberlein Drive 68 Team Challenge ALS 67
Moving onto Chicago
Eberlein Drive have advanced to the Elite Eight in Chicago. They are scheduled to face Carmen’s Crew (Ohio State alumni team) on August 1 at 7PM EST.
They have three players from Chicago in Pat Miller, Jerome Randle and Osiris Eldridge, which can elevate their game by playing in front of their hometown family and friends.
If Eberlein is to make a run they need to improve their three point shooting. During their three games, they shot 26.5% from three (26-98).
The backcourt duo of Jerome Randle and Donald Sloan is one of the best in TBT and if they get going they are hard to beat. Eberlein Drive could bolster their roster with some additions before Thursday also.
Some extra photos/footage from the Salt Lake City Regional: