Don’t call it a comeback: UNM alumni return to play in The Basketball Tournament

Drew Gordon (32) dunks against the Aggies during the Battle of the Rio Grande Alumni game in 2016. Gordon is on The Enchantment that will compete in The Basketball Tournament. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

This band of former Lobos (mostly) is looking for a little bit of the tournament success that eluded them in college.

The Enchantment, an all-star basketball team put together and comprised primarily of UNM Lobo alumni, was officially selected on Monday to compete in The Basketball Tournament (TBT) — July’s $1 million, winner-take-all event that has grown tremendously in recent years in popularity and is broadcast each summer on ESPN.

The team, put together primarily by former Lobos assistant Brandon Mason who is the general manager, will be coached by former Lobo great and ex-NBA player Kenny Thomas and has nine former Lobos along with one Manzano High graduate (Michael Holyfield) who didn’t play at UNM but has played professionally for years and one unaffiliated player in 6-11 forward Matur Maker, who joined the team through contacts Mason has.

“Being a head coach for ‘The Enchantment’ New Mexico alumni team is an honor,” Thomas said in a prepared statement put out by UNM’s Athletic Department. “I am looking forward to building something with this group of guys.”

New men’s basketball coach Richard Pitino said having the team around the facility is a no-brainer.

“I’m looking forward to watching so many of our storied Lobo alumni in pursuit of the TBT title,” Pitino said.

The Enchantment was given one of four No. 8 seeds in the 64-team tournament on Monday, being placed in the July 16-20 Wichita (Kansas) Regional. The event culminates in the $1 million winner-take-all championship game played Aug. 3 in Dayton, Ohio.

The Enchantment’s first game will be against No. 9 Stillwater Stars, an Oklahoma State alumni team that is in its second year competing in the tournament after an opening-round loss last year.

THE SQUAD: In addition to Thomas and Mason’s involvement as general manager, UNM Associate Athletic Director and former student manager and Director of Operations for Lobo basketball Ryan Berryman is the assistant general manager.

For a variety of reasons — travel and injury among them — several players who initially committed to play on the team when it was first announced in November have had to back out.

As of Monday, the official roster, with years played at UNM unless noted in parenthesis:

  • J.R. Giddens (2006-08)
  • Drew Gordon (2010-12)
  • Darington Hobson (2009-10)
  • Michael Holyfield (Manzano High and Sam Houston State)
  • Antino Jackson (2017-18)
  • Matur Maker (A 6-11 forward from Australia, unaffiliated with New Mexico)
  • Anthony Mathis (2015-19)
  • Phillip McDonald (2008-12)
  • Jamaal Smith (2006-08)
  • Pancake Thomas (2012-14)
  • Tim Williams (2015-17).

TUNE UP IN THE PIT: UNM has agreed to allow The Enchantment to use Lobo basketball facilities for training and practices ahead of TBT, including playing in the July 11 All-Star game in the Pit, which was announced last week.

That game will feature the TBT squad against another roster of UNM alumni players. Tickets for that game start at $10 and can be purchased online at GoLobos.com/TBT.

OTHER NEW MEXICO TIES: Three other former Lobos will be playing in the event for other teams: Elijah Brown for Always Us, an Oregon alumni team; Corey Manigault for B1 Ballers, a roster of players who got together while playing overseas; and Zane Martin for the NG Saints, the No. 16 seed in the Wichita region comprised of former Philadelphia-area high school greats.

Albuquerque Academy graduate and Memphis Tigers assistant Cody Toppert is back coaching TBT mainstay Eberline Drive, considered annually one of the best teams in the event. Eberline Drive was eliminated from last year’s even when a player tested positive for COVID-19, only to find out after it was too late to resume playing that it was a false positive.

As the No. 1 seed in Wichita, this sets up a possible second round matchup between Toppert’s team and the UNM alumni team, which would certainly have storylines as the Toppert family has deep Lobo hoops roots.

Three former New Mexico State Aggies are competing as well: Jemerrio Jones for Armored Athletes; Troy Gillenwater for Team Hines; and Abdoulaye N’Doye for BC Vahakni City, a team comprised primarily of players who play professionally on the same team in Armenia.

OPENING ROUND: The Enchantment’s opening-round matchup against the Stillwater Stars will have at least two players quite familiar to former Lobos in former Fresno State players guard Cezar Guerrero and forward Nate Grimes.

Guerrero started his college career at Oklahoma State before making 83 starts for the Mountain West’s Bulldogs from 2013 to 2016. Grimes, who played at Fresno State from 2016-2020 and once had 19 points and 19 rebounds in a win over UNM in 2019, is one of two players on the Stillwater Stars.

The game will be streamed on ESPN3 and is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. MDT, 7 p.m. locally in Wichita.

WANNA GO? Tickets for all TBT games, including those for The Enchantment, can be found online at thetournament.com/tickets.

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