Other than casual pick-up games at local YMCA gyms or alumni functions, it's difficult to take in the talents of past players who have represented the state of Wisconsin, whether that be at the high school, collegiate or professional level. Alas, various generations of players with Wisconsin ties will be able to showcase their abilities at The Basketball Tournament (TBT) as the No. 3 overall seed Sconnie Legends take the court against the No. 30 overall seed Showtime on Friday night.
Held in Philadelphia, TBT slots 32 teams from all over the country in a single-elimination tournament with the winner taking home $500,000. The list of teams spans from the 2010 Sweet 16 Cornell team to some members of the 2013 national champion Louisville team and a whole host of teams in between, highlighted by No. 1 overall seed Team Barstool. Their star-studded lineup includes Dahntay Jones, who played at Duke and for various NBA teams; Shavlik Randolph, who also played at Duke for head coach Mike Krzyzewski and in the NBA; and Josh Boone, who played his college ball at UConn and split time between the NBA and overseas. Mixed in between there is Big Apple Basketball, headlined by Smush Parker, Kobe Bryant's infamous former teammate in Los Angeles, and Rashad McCants, who enjoyed a successful career at North Carolina and was a 2005 first-round selection of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
As the name dictates, Sconnie Legends is made up of players who have some sort of Wisconsin ties. Jeff Nordgaard played for Dick Bennett at UW-Green Bay from 1992-96 and was a second-round selection of the Milwaukee Bucks. Harry Boyce attended Green Bay East High School from 2000-04, where he was a three-time all-conference honoree. Tyler "Deion" James appeared in 59 career games from 2007-09 for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Joshua Metzger played his high school ball at Wisconsin Lutheran and continued his collegiate career at Wisconsin Lutheran College, scoring a school-record 61 points in 2000 against Grinnell and finishing as the school's second-leading scorer. Kon Knueppel was an All-American at Wisconsin Lutheran College, and Mike Hojnacki led New Berlin Eisenhower to the 2008 state championship, averaging 19 points, nine rebounds and three assists per game.
The only player who has specific ties to UW-Madison is Paul Grant, who spent two seasons on campus as a member of Bennett's squad. After sitting out the 1995-96 season following his transfer from Boston College, the 7'0 center was named honorable mention All-Big Ten the following season, leading the Badgers in points (350), field goal percentage (49.4 percent) and blocked shots (32). Selected by the Timberwolves with the 20th overall selection in 1997, Grant also spent time with the Bucks (1999) and the Utah Jazz (2004; his last season professionally) as well as playing overseas for a multitude of teams.
When Grant was extended an invite to become a member of the Legends, his decision was simple. It was the culmination of Norgaard reaching out to him to join the squad and the opportunity to play competitive basketball again with former teammates that had one constant thread.
"It really was [a no-brainer]." Grant said. "Jeff and I have been friends for several years now, and are always trying to look for an opportunity to get together, and hang out and play basketball. This seemed like a great opportunity to do both. So I said, 'Hey, I'm available to do this.'
"It's a great opportunity for some of us who have been away from public games and stuff like that, and that type of competition. And reaching out to some guys we haven't seen for awhile. Hopefully, it'll be entertaining for everybody. If the past is any indication, we'll have a lot of people from Wisconsin cheering for us because Wisconsin has the best fans out there."
Even though Grant resides in the state of Massachusetts, he hasn't completely left Wisconsin in the wind. He makes an effort to see some of his former teammates from UW as much as his schedule allows, including Dave Burkemper, Adam Shafer, Sam Okey, Mozelle Peterson and Brian Vraney, some of whom are his nearest and dearest friends. He has also kept tabs on Bo Ryan's squad and all of the success they have enjoyed, as well as Bennett's teams that came before Ryan took over at the helm. In fact, he suited up for the scout team prior to the team's 2012 Sweet 16 matchup against Syracuse at TD Garden in Boston to presumably emulate former 'Cuse big man Fab Melo.
"Any time you have a program and a system like Bo Ryan has cultivated and honed to the degree that he has, the team is going to be dangerous in the [NCAA] tournament," Grant said. "With this year and the team they had -- again, it's the system they play, the discipline they have and the decisions they make in the critical junctures of the game that are going to carry them through those tournament games."
Grant was actually in Kentucky for the Final Four tending to an ill family member, and he admitted succumbing to the boisterousness of Big Blue Nation, both from a fan and media perspective. "I was just pulling my hair out ... I would have much rather watched the national broadcast, or the Badger one (led by Wayne Larrivee and Mike Kelley)."
The Brother Rice High School product also noted the gratitude he had for Wisconsin's coaching staff. Back during his playing days, Grant was asking for a two-year scholarship, even though he would only actually see in-game action for one season. All together, he couldn't have drawn up a better scenario, as he "didn't know a soul" when he first arrived in Madison.
Based off his collegiate stats and experience at the professional level, there's certain expectations that may follow. Not to mention, Norgaard said in a Google Hangout with TBT Commissioner that Grant was one of the most physically fit members of the squad.
Grant, however, wasn't concerned with any type of ideal stat line that could be expected of him. As he mentioned, that only hurts him because of the inevitable ceiling it creates for his production.
"I don't have any expectations as far as numbers are concerned," Grant said. "I'm really looking forward to getting together with the guys. We'll talk about the style of play that we want to play, and I will just try to fit into that and play my role. I'm definitely looking forward to being aggressive on both the offensive and defensive end. I can't wait."