Ask any college basketball coach about what it’s like to maneuver the month after the season ends, and they’ll probably need to either take a deep breath or grab a drink. These days, roster management in the weeks after a team plays its final game is as stressful as anything else they do.
Yet, former Ohio State guard and current program assistant Andrew Dakich has found something in the same realm possibly more difficult: Putting a team together for The Basketball Tournament during a pandemic. He says it hasn’t been much of a challenge as it might seem – “everyone had a helping hand in this” – but the churn of Big X’s roster has been constant.
At different points over the past couple of months, it has seemed like Big X – the No. 9 overall seed in this summer’s tournament – would have the feel of a modern Ohio State alumni team. It was building a roster that could serve as a new-age foil to Carmen’s Crew, which features a slew of former Buckeyes who wrapped up their college careers a decade ago. They’re even set to potentially meet in the quarterfinals.
“All of those guys, we have a pretty good relationship with, whether it's a group chat or playing in the gym all the time,” CJ Jackson said on Wednesday. “So, obviously that would be an exciting matchup.”
Instead, both due to coronavirus positive tests and NBA dreams, Big X will open play against No. 24 D2 at 3 p.m. on Saturday with only two former Ohio State players – Jackson as a point guard and Dakich as a player-coach – rather than what looked to be as many as six Buckeyes.
“The hospitality has been great, but at the same time it's just very, very unique.”– Andrew Dakich on TBT
Keyshawn Woods was supposed to return as a guard who would team up with Dakich and Jackson in the backcourt. However, a positive coronavirus test just ahead of the tournament will keep him out for the entirety of it.
Both Kaleb and Andre Wesson were slated to play on Big X, too. Dakich had recruited them, and they were “in from the beginning,” he said. However, they chose to focus on preparing to start their professional careers. Kaleb is on the borderline of being an NBA draft pick, and Andre intends to play professionally, too.
“Unfortunately, it just didn't work out with those two,” Dakich said. “They wanted to focus on getting ready for their professional careers, and obviously I fully support that. It would have been big, obviously, to have those two, but they've got to do what's best for them.”
Around the time they were taken out of the equation, Big X announced the addition of Jae’Sean Tate.
But because Tate tested positive for coronavirus in early June, he’s being held out of The Basketball Tournament until he passes a coronavirus test that he’ll take on Thursday. Dakich expects to get Tate’s test result back on Friday, and if he’s negative for COVID-19, he’ll be able to rejoin Big X in the second round to face Trevor Thompson and the Red Scare.
Should Big X wins its first-round game, Tate would be a major boon after earning first-team All-National Basketball League honors last season with the Sydney Kings in Australia. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie reported he believes Tate was on track to earn a 10-day NBA contract at the end of the season before it got postponed due to the pandemic.
“He really wants to play this year, so we're just hoping that he can pass this test tomorrow and rejoin us after the first game,” Dakich said.
For now, though, it’s just Dakich and Jackson.
Or, as Dakich sees it: It’s Dakich and the guy whose game-winning shot with 1.6 seconds remaining to top the Hoosiers, 80-78, on Feb. 23, 2018, kept him from having to walk home from Bloomington, Indiana, back to Columbus.
“His shot against Indiana saved my ass from embarrassment where I wasn't going to be allowed back on the plane because I had a crucial turnover the possession before,” Dakich said. “That's the first thing that comes to mind.”
Together, they arrived with the rest of their team – which features former Michigan State forward Nick Ward, former Wisconsin forward Khalil Iverson and former Saint Louis guard Javon Bess, among others – within the last week at the Hyatt Regency, where they’ll be secluded from the general public in order to remain coronavirus-free. If any player in the 24-team tournament tests positive after they arrive, their entire team will be removed from the competition.
Thus, TBT is taking precautionary measures to prevent positives as much as it can.
All players had to take multiple tests before getting to Columbus, then they got tested again immediately upon arrival to the hotel. They subsequently were forced to quarantine, even getting food delivered to their rooms in brown paper bags, before getting their test results back within around 24 hours.
“The hospitality has been great, but at the same time it's just very, very unique,” Dakich said.
Big X practiced for the first time on Tuesday – Dakich showed up late because his test results hadn’t come back yet – and it’ll practice again on Wednesday afternoon. Right now, Dakich said, they're just familiarizing themselves with each other since there are players who went to seven different colleges. Then, they’ll get into what to expect from their opening opponent, who replaced the Jackson TN Underdawgs in the bracket on Wednesday after a member of the Underdawgs tested positive for COVID-19.
“We're excited to be here and excited to be able to play basketball again,” Jackson said. “It's been kind of a long layoff. And just excited to compete against guys that you're familiar competing against or with. It should be fun.”