CHICAGO – A quartet of former Blue Demon stars take to the pitch on Sunday in hopes of winning $ 1,000,000 at an innovative basketball venture known as The Basketball Tournament (TBT).
Savvy playmaker Billy Garrett, Jr. (2013-17) organized the SCD Hoops (Sickle Cell Disease) to compete in the 64-team winning TBT with televised matches on the ESPN family of networks.
SCD Hoops lost Sunday at noon to Autism Army in the Illinois Regional first round at the Peoria Civic Center on ESPN3.
Joining Garrett are former teammates Myke Henry (2013-16), Eli Cain (2015-19) and Cain’s former teammate Femi Olujobi (2018-19), 6ft 9in.
Garrett became the first NBA player with sickle cell disease when he signed a 10-day contract with the New York Knicks in April 2019. In four games, Garrett averaged 6.5 points and nearly two assists decisive.
It was his idea to represent the fight against sickle cell disease.
“I was working with the Sickle Cell Disease Association of America (SCDAA) and an idea occurred to me to organize a TBT team,” said Garrett after training earlier this week at McGrath-Phillips Arena. “It would be a good idea to represent SCDAA and provide a national platform through ESPN to bring the disease to light.
“There was no better place to do it than TBT with televised matches on ESPN and highlights aired on“ SportsCenter. ”I knew we could put a good product on the pitch after playing with a lot of the pros. talented.
“We have teamed up with SCDAA and the Third and Long Foundation led by Pittsburgh Steelers catcher Santonio Holmes whose son TJ is on treatment for the disease.”
After playing with the Phoenix Suns in the 2019 NBA Summer League, Garrett played in France and Greece. He spent the 2021 season with the Orlando Magic G League team.
Garrett played in the TBT last year with an Illinois alumni team called House of ‘Paign that advanced to the quarterfinals.
Along with the four Blue Demons, SCD Hoops also features Laquinton Ross who played for the Ohio State team that won the tournament in 2019.
Other members of the SCD Hoops roster include Garrett’s G League teammate and former DJ Hogg of Texas A&M, 6-8 Derek Pardon of Northwestern (Israeli Premier League) and James Palmer, Jr., All-Big Ten. Third Team in Nebraska who played for the Los Angeles Clippers G League team last season and will play in Poland this year.
“I called one of my best friends (a former DePaul player) Edwind McGhee who had just gotten the coaching job at Lincoln (Ill.) College,” said Garrett. “We started to set it in motion and it snowballed. Ed is our coach and general manager, and my dad (former DePaul assistant coach) Billy Garrett Sr. is on our coaching team.
“There wasn’t a lot of time to build the squad so we looked for multi-position players who could play either guard or forward. These guys are all pros who are used to make adjustments on the fly and learn how to blend quickly.
“We basically had a week to prepare, and everyone is in Chicago this week to practice.”
Cain performed in Luxembourg and Ukraine until the pandemic brought it to a halt. He is currently speaking to some foreign clubs and is also considering the NBA Summer League.
“I was originally going to play for a TBT team in New Jersey where I train, but that team was not selected for the 64 squad,” Cain said. “Billy called me and asked if I wanted to join his team.
“It’s nice to play with old teammates and good friends again. Some of us are best friends. I’m excited.”
Returning TBT teams will have an advantage initially as newer teams like SCD Hoops look to blend in quickly.
“Is a week long enough to prepare?” Cain said, “Ideally no. But we’re all pros and used to something like that. I know teams that don’t do any practice.
“It’s such a short period that it will be an advantage that some of us have played together before. The guys at DePaul know each other’s game. The other guys, who are professionals, will adapt quickly. Another key is that we have a bunch of really good people. “
Olujobi nodded in agreement.
“We have the kind of team that guys are pros and we know how to help each other out when needed,” said Olujobi, who has played the last two seasons in Lithuania and Macedonia. “It will definitely help the DePaul guys get to know each other, and it will help the other guys work as a team.
“It’s about how to compete and how to win. That’s how we prepare as a team. We’ve done a good job of bringing people together and playing for a greater cause.”
Henry was nationally and internationally acclaimed playing in a Chicago-based three-on-three team that won the national title in 2016 and won a silver medal at the 2016 FIBA 3×3 World Championship in China.
He signed a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies in January 2018 and played for the Oklahoma City G League squad in 2019-2020. Henry played in Italy last season and will play in France this season.
Autism Army represents Life’s WORC, a non-profit organization that provides care and support services to people with developmental disabilities and autism. The team features former Rhode Island forward Delroy James, whose son was diagnosed with autism with ex-St. John D’Angelo Harrison star JayVaughn Pinkston (Villanova) and Isaiah Swann (State of Florida).
Two teams from each of the four regional championships (Peoria, Ill., Wichita, Kan., Columbus, Ohio, Charleston, W. Va.) Will advance to the quarterfinals on July 31 in Dayton, Ohio. The semi-finals are August 1 and the Million Dollar Showdown is August 3.
SCD Hoops are only six wins away from a seven-figure win that will be split between players, coaches and sickle cell organizations.
“I was thinking the other day what to do if we win the tournament,” Garrett said. “I think my reaction would be: we really did it. We have the talent to do it.
“I’m not planning on spending any money. With our season fast approaching, I’m just going to put my money aside and put it in the bank.
“It’s pretty much the same for me,” Cain said. “With the preparation for the coming season, I have no idea how to spend it.”
“I’m going to give half of it to my mom and put the rest in the bank,” Olujobi said.