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Two UMass basketball alums to compete for a lofty prize in The Basketball Tournament

Collegian file photo by Maria Uminski

Collegian file photo by Maria Uminski

Two former Massachusetts basketball players will soon return to the court to compete with various former professional and collegiate players for a significant grand prize.

Luke Bonner and Anthony Gurley will both participate in The Basketball Tournament, a 32-team basketball tournament based out of Philadelphia. The tournament, which stretches from June 6-8 with the championship game being held on June 28, is comprised of 32 different teams competing in a single-elimination setup for a $500,000 grand prize.

Gurley, who graduated from UMass in 2011, is one of 10 players on “The Citi Team.” Other notable players competing alongside him are Anthony Ireland, who was named First Team All-West Coast Conference three years in a row at Loyola-Marymount, and Antonio Anderson, who played with Derrick Rose at Memphis.

“I was asked to play by multiple teams,” Gurley said. “But when it came down to it, I weighed all of my options and went with the team I felt had the best chance of winning.”

The Roxbury native said he found out about the tournament from another UMass alum, Jesse Leeds-Grant. Leeds-Grant graduated from UMass in 2012 with a degree in Sports Management and is currently the Public Relations/Recruiting Director for TBT.

“My friend Jesse, who was one of the team managers at UMass when I was there, told me about it because he was helping put the whole thing together,” Gurley said. “Over the last two months, the talks really picked up, and you hear about the great rosters that are being put together so it got everybody excited.”

With many former NBA and standout college players taking part in TBT, Gurley said it definitely fueled his desire to participate.

“I’ve always been a stand up competitive basketball player, so that’s the type of atmosphere I like to be around,” he said. “Of course, hearing all of the big time names and thinking about the great college teams that are in the tournament that made great NCAA tournament runs makes it even more fun.”

One aspect of the tournament that had both Gurley and Bonner interested was the way in which the teams would be selected to participate in the tournament. For this competition, 24 teams were selected based on the size of their fan groups, while the other eight were chosen by TBT committee. Fans were encouraged to visit the tournament’s website and select which team they supported. The four teams with the largest fan base could then select their opponent to play in the opening round of the tournament.

Bonner, who graduated from UMass in 2009 and will be playing for “Big Apple Basketball,” said that by the time he had joined, his team was on the bubble and was unsure of whether or not they would get the chance to participate.

“I work at a Marketing Agency so I’m pretty familiar with coming up with social media tactics and reaching out to people,” he said. “I think it’s a very interesting aspect of the tournament, and I’m curious to see if it can be a reusable model for other competitions.”

Unlike Gurley, Bonner was hesitant to participate at first and didn’t accept a spot until the last possible day.

“I hadn’t planned on doing it, but I thought it was such a unique tournament and to be in the very first one would be pretty cool,” Bonner said. “The guys from Big Apple Basketball had been trying to get me to play for them, so in the 11th hour I finally gave in and accepted a position on their team.”

With teammates like former NBA players Rashad McCants and Smush Parker, Bonner said it will be very interesting to see how it all comes together and hopes his team will have what it takes to go far in TBT.

“Especially with my team, I think we have a pretty talented group of guys, so I’m most curious to see if we have the chemistry and see how it works out,” he said.

As for their opponents in the first round, Gurley’s squad will be taking on a team called “Air Force Bomb Squad,” which consists of current and former service members that played for Air Force over the last decade.

Big Apple Basketball should have a relatively easy first round, going up against Eberlein Drive, a team that is named after a cul-de-sac in Detroit.

Both players enjoyed strong careers as Minutemen. Gurley logged 2,571 minutes over three seasons in Amherst, scoring 1,331 career points. Bonner averaged 12.6 points in three seasons at UMass and played two seasons with the Austin Toros in the NBA’s Developmental League.

Jason Kates can be reached at jkates@umass.edu

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