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Report: Kevin Love to withdraw from World Cup



Cavaliers forward Kevin Love is the latest player expected to withdraw from Team USA’s training camp for the FIBA World Cup, according to The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

This news comes just one day after Damian Lillard reportedly withdrew from the World Cup. Love, who played in just 22 games last season because of a shoulder injury, averaged 17.0 points and 10.9 rebounds in 2018-19.

During the previous two weeks, James Harden, Anthony Davis, Eric Gordon, Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum reportedly decided not to compete in the World Cup this year.

Although the guard ranks will be somewhat depleted of NBA stars, Team USA continues to have a deep pool of players available.

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Celtics’ Gordon Hayward plans to leave bubble for birth of child



Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward says that he will leave the NBA’s Disney World bubble for the birth of his fourth child if the Celtics are still playing.

“There’ll be a time if and when we’re down there and she’s going to have the baby, I’m for sure going to be with her,” Hayward said of his wife, Robyn. “We’ll have to cross that bridge when we get there.”

Robyn Hayward is due in September — meaning that, with the Eastern Conference Semifinals scheduled to begin no later than Aug. 30, and the Eastern Conference Finals scheduled to begin no later than Sept. 15, Hayward would have to spend at minimum several days during the playoffs away from his teammates.

But Hayward said that the decision to be with his wife for the birth of their child wasn’t complicated.

“It’s a pretty easy decision for me on that,” Hayward said. “I’ve been at the birth of every one of my children and I think there are more important things in life. So we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

“I know the NBA has a protocol for that type of thing and hopefully I can do the quarantining and testing the appropriate amount of time and then be back with the boys.”

Hayward is right, as the NBA has built in protocols for approved absences such as this — along with other instances like a death in the family — that require a player or staff member inside the bubble to leave. Under those circumstances, if a player leaves for less than seven days, and tests negative on each day that he is not inside the bubble, he would have to quarantine for four days upon returning to the bubble.

Any player who leaves the bubble without approval will be subject to a minimum quarantine of 10 days.

Hayward isn’t the only player facing this type of situation, as Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley‘s wife is due to give birth on Aug. 27.

“The understanding that I’d be able to see her and I’d be able to be back for the baby, as long as all that was answered and the T’s were crossed and the I’s were dotted on that situation, I was more and more comfortable knowing I’d be able to be back with them at some point,” Conley said on a conference call earlier this week.

The prospect of being away from friends and family for the next several weeks is something weighing on the minds of everyone who is scheduled to be headed inside the bubble, a process that officially begins Monday. While players will have the ability to have friends or family come visit them after the first round of the playoffs (if their team is still playing), staff members currently won’t be allowed to have family there at any point — something Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been vocal about trying to change.

Hayward said the idea of leaving his wife and three young daughters behind is a tough thing to wrap his head around.

“I think for a lot of people in the NBA, a difficult decision as far as leaving family, especially if you have little kids,” he said. “This is a unique experience that’s about to happen, because although we are on the road a lot during the year, you do get time to come home. Maybe maximum eight, nine, ten days on the road before you’re home. And so being gone for a lot longer certainly is going to be tough. It’s going to be hard, there’s no doubt about it.

“I think leaving the girlies is gonna be really hard and for sure a sad day for me. I think they’re old enough to the point where they do understand what’s going on and we’ve tried to explain to them that I’m gonna be gone for a little while. It’s something where I think it is what it is. I think the opportunity to compete for a championship and play for a title is something a lot of us NBA players want to do. We want to go down there and continue the season and try to finish something that we’ve worked for all year. So I think there’s definitely a lot to think about.” He also praised his wife, who he said would be traveling back to Indianapolis with their daughters to be with their families, for how she’s handling what is a stressful situation for all of them.

“She’s sad, for sure,” Hayward said. “My wife has been unbelievable through this whole thing. She is taking care of the girls, taking care of me, beause I’ve been home more and that’s something she does really well. All while being pregnant. Helping me get ready for this upcoming deal that we’re going to go through [and] at the same time, trying to get the girls ready to go back to Indianapolis for the baby.

“She’s just been amazing … She’s been stressing a little bit about this and I can’t blame her for that. It’s definitely been a stressful time for us. But I think she will be happy if I go down there and play well and the Celtics play well. I know she will be. I think we’re all blessed now as we’re on this Zoom call here with the technology these days to be able to communicate with video calls and I can still talk to her every day. It won’t be the same as me being there and doing storytime and bedtime and all that good stuff, but maybe I can do some of that remotely.”

On the court this season, Hayward looked much closer to the player he was prior to the devastating injury he suffered in his first game for the Celtics against the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first game with the franchise in 2018. But he admitted Friday that he still feels pain in his left foot at times, and while he expects it is because of that injury, he isn’t sure what is causing it.

“I wish that I had an answer to why it is a little sore,” said Hayward, who missed time in December because of the same issue. “I think a lot of it relates to just the injury that I had. I’ve been training pretty much this whole time. Not full go obviously, since I haven’t had a court the whole time, but I have been trying to stay fit. I’ve been resting, but at the same time not resting … kind of like a maintenance type thing.

“Everything is definitely a lot better, there is no doubt about that. For sure, I’m feeling great, it’s just the foot still is a little sore. It is what it is.”

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The Basketball Tournament stars on the college basketball games they can’t forget



On July 4, the seventh annual edition of The Basketball Tournament, a winner-take-all event for a $1 million prize, will commence in Columbus, Ohio. Precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic have included shrinking the pool to 24 teams, holding the tournament in a central location (Nationwide Arena) and demanding an extensive health and safety plan.

But the players, who have been and will continue to be subject to testing protocols, will stage the first round of televised basketball in the United States since March.

It’s a stacked field. Boeheim’s Army boasts four former first-round NBA draft picks. Carmen’s Crew, the defending champs, return. And Overseas Elite, which had won four consecutive TBT titles and $7 million total in prize money prior to last year’s event, added Joe Johnson, a seven-time NBA All-Star. Plus, the field is littered with recent collegiate standouts, such as former Gonzaga star Josh Perkins and Mike Daum, the former South Dakota State standout who is among the NCAA’s career leaders in scoring.

It’s an impressive collection of talent.

While many of the players have spent their professional careers overseas, they’re all widely known for their achievements in college.

In recent weeks, ESPN asked multiple TBT standouts about a game from their college careers that still crosses their minds. A few recalled pleasant moments. But the majority of the players who spoke to ESPN detailed heartbreaking memories that remain difficult to digest.

Travis Diener (Golden Eagles): 38th pick in the 2005 NBA draft; averaged 14.1 PPG in four years at Marquette

Game I can’t forget: Marquette’s 94-61 loss to Kansas in the 2003 Final Four at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Marquette entered halftime down 59-30. Diener finished 1-for-11 with five points.

“The one I probably think about the most is our Final Four game against Kansas when we just got absolutely pounded. It’s not something that really bugs me, because the game was such a blowout. It was just an old-fashioned butt-whipping. That’s the one that gets brought up the most. You’re always gonna remember that. The Kentucky game the week before I remember for all the positives.

“You’re grateful now. When you’re in it at that age, you don’t really appreciate it. You don’t get the chance to sit back and understand what you’ve accomplished. I think now, years later, being more removed from school and having people tell me where they were at that time [of our Final Four run], I think I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for what we did accomplish.”

Aaron Craft (Carmen’s Crew): Two-time Big Ten defensive player of the year (2012, 2014); averaged 4.7 APG and 2.3 SPG in four-year career at Ohio State

Game I can’t forget: Ohio State’s 64-62 loss to Kansas in the 2012 Final Four at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Kansas overcame a 13-point deficit in the first half. With his team down by three points with 2.9 seconds to play, Craft made the first free throw but got whistled for a lane violation after he intentionally missed the second. His steal and subsequent layup had given Ohio State a three-point lead with 2:22 to play in the game.

“The game that hurts the most is definitely the Final Four game in 2012. I don’t know what happens. Sometimes it just flashes back. I got a steal with 2:30 left to put us up by three. Kansas calls a timeout, and then it went downhill. One of the toughest things about it is not knowing. We feel like we matched up well with Kentucky [the 2012 national champion]. Not knowing what that game would have been like, not getting that opportunity to be able to compete with them. We felt like we had the opportunity to match up well.

“It’s not something that eats at me terribly. It was an unbelievable experience. We played in front of 70,000 people. There are very few people that can say they did that. That team was a lot of fun to be around. The further away you get, you just appreciate it.”

Isaac Haas (Men of Mackey): Averaged 14.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.3 BPG as a senior at Purdue during the 2017-18 season; third-team all-Big Ten selection in 2018

Game I can’t forget: Back-to-back losses to Ohio State (Keita Bates-Diop hit a game-winning putback with 2.8 seconds to play in a 64-63 loss) and at Michigan State (Miles Bridges made the game-winning 3-pointer with seven seconds to play in a 68-65 loss) toward the end of the 2017-18 season that snapped a 19-game winning streak for Purdue.

The losses to Ohio State and at Michigan State were part of a three-game losing streak that cost the Boilermakers a shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

“The one I still think about, well, it’s really two. Back to back, we played Ohio State and Michigan State my senior year. We had that huge winning streak going. We got an unfortunate tip-in at the buzzer [against Ohio State], and then Miles Bridges hits the game-winning shot at Michigan State. Those two still eat at me. When I think back, it’s like, ‘What else could I have done to get one or two more baskets?’ Obviously, it hurt. It’s one of those ones where there was good defense being played. There was no real flaw in what we were doing. It’s just one of those things. What eats at me is everything we could have done before [the final minutes of those games]. I felt like we handled business versus all these teams during our winning streak. I felt like we could win it all. It was a special team.”

Joe Johnson (Overseas Elite): No. 10 pick in the 2001 NBA draft; seven-time NBA all-star; averaged 15.0 PPG and made 41% of his 3-point attempts in two years at Arkansas

Game I can’t forget: Arkansas’ 75-71 loss to Miami in the first round of the 2000 NCAA tournament

Down by 13 points midway through the second half, Arkansas launched a 10-0 run to cut the deficit to three points with 23 seconds to play but couldn’t stop the more experienced Miami squad. Johnson, a freshman, finished 4-for-16 and scored 13 points. Arkansas had won the SEC tournament to secure the league’s automatic bid.

“We had to win the SEC tournament just to get into the NCAA tournament. We came out of that going into the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round to the University of Miami. It was a game we definitely should have had. We were a young team led by a lot of freshmen. We just really didn’t have the experience. We got off to a slow start, and we didn’t understand. We didn’t have the sense of urgency. We knew you needed to play hard.

“We weren’t exhausted from the SEC tournament, although we had to play four games in four days. Throughout that NCAA tournament game, however, we just could never gain momentum. We would be right in the game, but we could never get over that hump. It hurt because of our experience alone. You look back 20 years later and there is so much I could’ve done to help us win. My college days were a lot more fun for me than the NBA. It was a dream for me to be a Razorback. I never even took a visit anywhere. I knew where I wanted to go.”

Josh Perkins (Playing for Jimmy V): Two-time all-WCC first-team selection; averaged 10.2 PPG and 4.7 APG in four years at Gonzaga

Game I can’t forget: Every NCAA tournament loss. A 75-69 loss to Texas Tech in the Elite Eight in 2019, a 75-60 loss to Florida State in the Sweet Sixteen in 2018, a 71-65 loss to North Carolina in the national championship in 2017 and a 63-60 loss to Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen in 2016.

In the national title game in 2017, Perkins finished with 13 points. But 14 turnovers and foul trouble for the squad’s frontcourt (Zach Collins fouled out in the second half) — a point of controversy for Gonzaga fans — put his team in a tough position.

“It’s hard for me to choose between the [2019] game against Texas Tech in the Elite Eight and the championship [in 2017]. Obviously, it’s easy for people to say the national championship because we could have made history for our school. I felt like last year I was a senior leader, a guy that could’ve put the team on my back. I felt like I let them down. It’s hard for me to pick between those two games. But really, all four NCAA tournament losses in my career stand out. We could have won all four of those games. It’s not a good feeling when you could have done more and changed something. I think anybody who watched that national title game knew it was a weird, choppy flow. The officiating definitely put some key players on the bench.”

Tyshawn Taylor (Stillwater Stars): Averaged 10.8 PPG and 3.9 APG over four years at Kansas

Game I can’t forget: Kansas’ 87-86 overtime win over Missouri on Feb. 25, 2012, in Lawrence, Kansas.

With 17:03 to play in the game, Missouri had a 55-36 lead. But the Jayhawks rallied with an incredible run down the stretch. Taylor’s two free throws cut Missouri’s lead to three with six minutes to play, and Thomas Robinson’s shot and free throw in the final seconds of regulation sent the rivalry matchup into overtime, when Taylor scored nine of his team’s 12 points.

“That’s an easy pick. My senior year, we played Missouri at home. It was a huge rivalry game. It was the last time we were going to have that home-and-home rivalry. We definitely wanted to win it. We were down like 19, 20 points. I don’t know how we ended up getting into overtime, and then in overtime, taking control of the game.

“Missouri was a great team that year. They played four or five guards, and we’d actually lost to them at Missouri earlier in the season. In this game, we got down big but made every right play the last like 20 minutes of that game. It was ridiculous. I’ve watched it probably 10 different times. I can still remember the last four or five plays, how I was feeling, what was happening in the moment. It’s the loudest I’ve ever heard Allen Fieldhouse. I don’t know how we won. But when I saw the switch on [my teammates’] faces, I said, ‘We got this.’ It’s not really much [Bill Self] could say. He said to just do what we do. It’s about the next play. You’re not going to make a 17-point shot. Next time, let’s get the lead down to eight. We’re just playing four-minute games. That’s how he broke it down. The game was so loud you couldn’t even hear him.”

Ethan Happ (Team Hines): Three-time all-Big Ten first team at Wisconsin; consensus second-team All-American in 2019

Game I can’t forget: Wisconsin’s 84-83 overtime loss to Florida in the Sweet 16 in 2017.

Happ finished with 21 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. But 16 turnovers and a dazzling effort by KeVaughn Allen (35 points) fueled the victory for Florida, which won on Chris Chiozza’s buzzer beater.

“I got it on my board at my home, the final box score of the Florida game in the 2017 Sweet 16. Chris Chiozza hit that one-footed runner at the buzzer. That game will always hurt me the most because one of the biggest things was that I got to play with those seniors [Bronson Koenig, Nigel Hayes, Vitto Brown]. We beat Villanova, the No. 1 seed, and we were on our way to beating Florida, barring something crazy. South Carolina, which we would have played next, in terms of the bracket, is who you would want to play, and we felt confident we could get to the Final Four that year.

“It stung. I still have that thing on my bulletin board. You can look at it how you want. Everyone has their own opinion. It’s easy for people on Twitter to say things, but if Chiozza doesn’t make this miraculous shot, no one says a word [of criticism]. No part of us thought we were going to walk through Florida. KeVaughn Allen was hot, and he kept hitting shots. C’mon, man — I just stopped having nightmares and you want to ask me about this? We should have won that game. I’m sure Florida would say the same thing. But in a seven-game series, we’re winning that series.”

DeAndre Kane (Overseas Elite): Averaged 17.1 PPG and made 40% of his 3-point attempts as a senior at Iowa State during the 2013-14 season after transferring from Marshall; earned Big 12 tournament MVP honors in 2014

Game I can’t forget: Iowa State’s 87-72 win over Baylor in his first Big 12 home game in Ames, Iowa.

The box score tells the story. Baylor dominated the offensive glass and made 44% of its 3-point attempts, but Kane’s 30-point effort sparked a blowout win for the Cyclones.

“Baylor. I had 30. It was a crazy game for me. It was my first home game in the Big 12. It was on ESPN, 9 o’clock, sold out at Hilton Coliseum. I had one of the greatest performances of my career. It was amazing. Playing in front of 15,000 people, packed like that on a Tuesday for a prime-time game. Once I hit a few shots, I was on. Coach Fred [Hoiberg], he told me we had some good young guys and he needed a veteran point guard to help those guys. He had an offense that was very good for me and Georges [Niang] and Melvin [Ejim]. It was really fun playing in that system. It was amazing. Coach Hoiberg is one of the most talented offensive coaches I ever played for.”

Eric Devendorf (Boeheim’s Army): 2005 McDonald’s All-American; averaged 14.5 PPG over four years at Syracuse

Game I can’t forget: Syracuse’s 127-117 six-overtime win over UConn in the 2009 Big East Tournament quarterfinals.

The game ended at 1:22 a.m. EST. It’s remarkable for a multitude of reasons, but Syracuse didn’t lead until the sixth and final overtime. Seven players finished with at least 19 points in the game. Devendorf had 22 points and four assists.

“If I told you any other game besides the six-overtime game, then I’d be wrong. I still get asked about that at least twice a week. In my mind, it’s the greatest game of all time. It really didn’t hit me until after the game. We went out, my roommates and I. We were at dinner at 2:30, 3 o’clock in the morning and the game was already on ESPN Classic. Right when we saw that, we were like, ‘This was something special,’ but we were just trying to win the game. You can talk about UConn, but it was more so Syracuse. We won that game.

“It was pretty awesome because you think about everything that was in the game. You’re in NYC. You’re playing in Madison Square Garden. You’re on ESPN. You’re playing a game with two rivals. It was the last of the real Big East. I was pretty grateful to play in that conference. There was so much talent, so many NBA guys in that game.

“I just remember Coach [Jim Boeheim] in the huddle. One thing I learned from Coach is being able to keep your composure. Stay calm, poised. I can just remember throughout my career, we’d get in situations where it’d be tight and he never got flustered. He had his times where he yelled at you in the huddle, but he was just always thinking about that next play.

“We never really looked ahead of it going into the overtimes of that game. That said a lot about that team, man. We had guys come in who’d never played, but they were ready. Going up 10 in the sixth overtime is when we really started feeling more comfortable. Even that 10-point win, it was just them fouling us and us hitting free throws at the end. But that’s really when we started feeling comfortable.”

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The Basketball Tournament expert picks — Two teams are on everyone’s list



This year’s edition of The Basketball Tournament is unique for a multitude of reasons. Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the event is positioned to offer American fans the first televised team basketball event since the NBA suspended its season in March. But the TBT will also benefit from an abundance of talent, including multiple players from the G-League and overseas circuits, that seeks to impress pro scouts on the national stage. Who will take home the $1 million prize? Our in-house TBT enthusiasts weighed in with their “final four” picks.

Myron Medcalf: Carmen’s Crew, Golden Eagles, Overseas Elite, Boeheim’s Army

The “final four” seems clear to me. Look for defending champion Carmen’s Crew, 2019 runner-up Golden Eagles, four-time champ Overseas Elite and Boeheim’s Army to all enter the semifinals and compete for the crown and $1 million prize.

Carmen’s Crew, the team backed by William Buford and other former Ohio State players, has an advantage this year with Columbus, Ohio, hosting the event. The squad has already started team practices, since most of its players live in the same location. They’ll avoid the toll of traveling in a pandemic and they return every key player from last year. The Golden Eagles are back, however, to compete for the crown again. Last year’s title game was tight until the Marquette-backed group surrendered an 8-0 Elam Ending rally by Carmen’s Crew.

Seven-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson joining Overseas Elite is the TBT equivalent of Kevin Durant joining the Golden State Warriors in 2016. He gives the four-time champions another legit shooter. But their biggest void in last year’s event came at point guard when Errick McCollum, brother of CJ McCollum, missed the event due to his wedding. McCollum is not listed on this year’s roster.

Boeheim’s Army boasts one of the field’s most talented rosters with four former NBA first-round picks. They can win it, too. But Johnson is the X factor in this field. He’s a legit talent who proved last year he’s still a potent scorer when he won MVP honors in the Big3 and received interest from NBA teams.

With Johnson, Overseas Elite will win this tournament. — Medcalf

Jeff Borzello: Carmen’s Crew, Overseas Elite, Boeheim’s Army, Team CP3

I think it’s hard to make a confident “final four” prediction without including Carmen’s Crew and Overseas Elite. They’re the top two seeds for a reason. Overseas Elite, the 2-seed, has lost one game in TBT history and added Joe Johnson and Pooh Jeter to avoid a repeat of that defeat. They’re experienced, they know the format, and they’re consistent winners. Carmen’s Crew is the only team to ever beat Overseas Elite.

As for the other two teams, I’m going with 3-seed Boeheim’s Army and, to keep it from being completely chalk, 13-seed Team CP3. Boeheim’s Army has tons of talent from Syracuse, and they could probably fire up a 2-3 zone if they had to. CP3 will have chemistry from their AAU days and should have strong balance with the likes of Nate Mason (Minnesota), Dez Wells (Maryland) and P.J. Hairston (North Carolina) on the perimeter and Kennedy Meeks (North Carolina) down low. — Borzello

Seth Greenberg: Carmen’s Crew, Golden Eagles, Boeheim’s Army, Overseas Elite

Carmen’s Crew will have its hands full in their “elite eight” game vs Big X but, although a year older, this team’s chemistry, approach and pedigree will be the difference. Jared Sullinger has a great feel for his guys and always plays to their strengths. William Buford, Aaron Craft and David Lighty give them floor gamers and the toughness needed to make another run. This is rumored to be Craft’s last competitive basketball event, as he is on his way to medical school, but then again, Craft retires more than Conor McGregor.

Golden Eagles will overcome a feisty Eberlein Drive team that has a physical and athletic frontcourt in former NBA player Johnny O’Bryant and another LSU alumnus in Emmitt Williams. The Golden Eagles are led by NBA veteran and the “everyday man,” 38-year-old Travis Diener. This team is as complete as any in TBT. The addition of Darius Johnson-Odom to complement Dwight Buycks will give the Golden Eagles two dynamic floor gamers. Jamil Wilson is the type of bucket-getter who can take over a game. Elgin Cook (Oregon) is a guy who can excel in the TBT while the addition of big man Luke Fischer gives the Golden Eagles a complete roster.

Boeheim’s Army features four former NBA first-round draft choices, but the heart and soul of this team is Eric Devendorf, Brandon Triche and Demetrius Nichols. Devendorf has a competitive spirit second to none, Triche started every game in his college career and is the winningest player in Syracuse history and Nichols just does what is needed in the moment. They will be supported by long, athletic, 6-foot-10 Chris McCullough, veteran Donte Green and bucket-getter Malachi Richardson. This team has multiple players who have finals experience. The only thing missing for Boeheim’s Army is Carmelo Anthony.

The most talented “elite eight” game in TBT history will feature The Money Team vs. Overseas Elite — this will be a true heavyweight fight. The Money Team could have a starting lineup of five players with NBA experience (Austin Daye, Tony Wroten, Wade Baldwin, Willie Reed and Nick Johnson), pros with size, athleticism and versatility. Overseas Elite has former NBA All-Star Joe Johnson, physical point guard Jarrett Jack and dynamic scorers Pooh Jeter and Bobby Brown, but the heart of Overseas Elite is the LeBron James of TBT, D.J. Kennedy. Kennedy is as fierce of a competitor as there is in basketball. He is what his team needs when they need it. He is complemented by his high school teammate DeAndre Kane (Iowa State) — if you look up “tough” in the dictionary you will see a picture of him. I like Overseas Elite to win this game, with their experience and multiple scorers. — Greenberg

Carmine Carcieri: Carmen’s Crew, Golden Eagles, Team Heartfire and Overseas Elite

You can’t bet against defending champs Carmen’s Crew during what is likely to be Aaron Craft’s last run, or Overseas Elite, which has put together the most loaded roster on paper in TBT history. The Golden Eagles seem destined for success with an experienced group. Team Heartfire is a different story as an unproven Cinderella, but I’ll go out on a limb and say former Baylor star Isaiah Austin and Co. have the length and size to catch lightning in a bottle and reach the “final four.” — Carcieri

Paul Biancardi: Carmen’s Crew, Overseas Elite, Golden Eagles and Team Hines

Carmen’s Crew brings a nasty trio of William Buford, Aaron Craft and David Lighty, with Craft the emotional leader and a high-end defender who makes pivotal stops at crunch time.

Overseas Elite has star power and experience. With two-time TBT MVP D.J. Kennedy, and former Iowa state great DeAndre Kane, this team is primed for a deep run. The big name is coming off the bench, as seven-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson could quickly turn into a go-to guy, while Pooh Jeter offers more NBA depth to potentially win it all.

The Golden Eagles have great chemistry along with talent, as they made it to the semifinals in 2018 and were a game away from winning it all last year. The pieces play well together and the perimeter of Travis Diener, Mo Acker and Andrew Rowsey can light it up from the outside and space the floor. Add center Luke Fischer to defend, score and bang inside along with big time X factor Darius Johnson-Odom, and the Golden Eagles have a championship on their mind.

Team Hines is battle-tested and proven, with a “final four” run last year. The leaders are Kyle Hines and ultra-versatile Nick Calathes. Two frontcourt stars were added in Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ and former Horizon League Player of the Year Alec Peters (Valparaiso). Peters shoots it deep and with accuracy at over 40% from beyond the arc. Happ is a high-end facilitator as a big man who averaged a double-double as a senior with the Badgers. A huge roster addition is former Illinois star Brandon Paul, who brings a wealth of experience, talent and toughness to put up big numbers when needed. — Biancardi

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