TBT: The Commonwealth UMass basketball alumni team to face Virginia Dream after Rhode Island withdraws

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 07-21-2023 5:10 PM

AMHERST — The Commonwealth invoked John Calipari when the news came out Friday morning.

UMass’ alumni team will no longer face The Rhody Way, a group of Rhode Island alums, in the first round of The Basketball Tournament after Rhody withdrew “due to unforeseen circumstances,” according to the TBT’s Twitter.

“Due to financial constraints, The Rhody Way will be unable to compete in the 2023 TBT,” The Rhody Way wrote on Twitter. “We’d like to thank TBT for giving us the opportunity to represent URI, and we apologize to our fans and supporters for not being able to compete this year.”

The account’s previous post was of a final push to raise at least $5,000 “in the next couple days” on Wednesday. They’d only collected $980 at the time and raised just $1,830 of a $10,000 goal as of early Friday afternoon.

More than 100 teams applied for the 64-team bracket, and Rhody will be replaced by Virginia Dream. They will assume Rhode Island’s No. 4 seed in the Syracuse Regional and face The Commonwealth at 9 p.m. Monday on ESPNU.

“We are disappointed to hear that The Rhody Way has decided to withdraw from TBT, particularly at such a late stage. However, we would like to express our sincere appreciation for the professionalism and strong communication demonstrated by TBT. Working with them has been truly exceptional,” The Commonwealth GM Patrick MacWilliams said in a statement. “As John Calipari famously said, ‘anyone, anytime, anywhere,’ and in alignment with the UMass mantra, we are fully prepared to face any opponent TBT schedules us to play on Monday night. Our team is unwavering in their determination and ready to represent The University of Massachusetts, The UMass Way.”

That way was instilled in every member of the team by their common coach in Amherst, Derek Kellogg. Calipari’s point guard built gritty, defensive teams that played fast like the ones he starred on in the early 1990s.

“Our defense is going to put a good toll on guys with our quickness, our speed. UMass basketball was run and gun,” said Luwane Pipkins, who played at UMass from 2016-19. “That’s going to be our identity.”

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The Commonwealth will benefit from continuity on several levels. Every UMass-connected member of the team played with at least one other former Minuteman for at least a year. Terrell Vinson, Freddie Riley, Chaz Williams and Maxie Esho were all on the 2013 squad, while Williams, Esho, Jabarie Hinds, Donte Clark and C.J. Anderson made the NCAA Tournament together in 2014. Anderson connects that part of the roster to Pipkins and Carl Pierre in 2018. Riley and Vinson spent their entire careers together from 2009-13.

“We all know each other's weaknesses, tendencies. That's a huge part of it. We know what certain players like the ball, we know where certain players are comfortable, uncomfortable,” Riley said. “That’s something that you can't get when you're just bringing guys in just to try to win some games. We understand our roles on the team.”

The Commonwealth will also have more time to gel before Monday’s tip off and the program’s TBT debut. They’ve been together since July 17 and have practiced four times in Amherst with another scheduled in Syracuse. Virginia Dream, meanwhile, just learned they’re in Friday and will have to turn around and play Monday.

“We just needed one practice (Wednesday) to kind of get some of the kinks out or whatever,” coach Mike Mannix said. “(Thursday) morning things really started clicking, guys remembered what it was like playing with each other, how they get guys the ball in certain areas.”

UMass will lean on its guards heavily between Williams, Pipkins, Pierre and others, but none of them play exactly the same way. Some prefer to attack the rim, while others are better shooting from outside.

“They all have their niche offensively,” Mannix said. “You need really solid guard play because you can't turn the ball over in a single-elimination type tournament.”

Virginia Dream is appearing in its second TBT (it lost 75-45 against Best Virginia last year) and features a collection of players either from Virginia or that played collegiately in that commonwealth.

“The strengths of this team is that a lot of us know each other and actually are friends outside of basketball, outside of UMass, and I think that'd be a good advantage for us,” Riley said. “The fact that we all have some commonalities, some of the things that made us successful here were the fact that we play hard, we play tough. I think us as a group, we're gonna be able to bring that along as adults.”

TBT uses a modified version of NCAA men’s rules. Games include nine-minute quarters, and players foul out with their sixth personal foul. Bonus free throws follow NCAA women’s and FIBA rules. Two free throws are awarded on the fifth and subsequent non-shooting fouls in a quarter. FIBA rules are followed for basket interference, except for free throws. Once the ball hits the rim, any player on either team can play the ball.

The games will also utilize the Elam Ending, where the final target score is eight points higher than the leading team’s score once the clock reaches below a certain point. Whoever reaches that score first wins the game. That limits late game fouling and ensures every game ends on a buzzer beater. The game clock is turned off, while the shot clock remains on.

Kyle Grabowski can be reached at kgrabowski@gazettenet.com. Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.]]>