Over two years after their Final Four run, former Loyola men’s basketball players Marques Townes and Donte Ingram may share the court again after signing on to compete in The Basketball Tournament (TBT).
Townes and Ingram have joined Great Lakes Elite (GLE), according to an announcement made by the team May 15. GLE is new to TBT and composed of players who play collegiately around the Great Lakes Region. There is currently no set date for TBT, but the 2020 tournament is set to be hosted in Summer 2020.
🚨ALERT🚨: Great Lakes Elite (@GLETBT) signs Donte Ingram and Marques Townes for TBT 2020.— TBT (@thetournament) May 15, 2020
The duo helped lead Loyola Chicago to its first Final Four in program history in 2018. pic.twitter.com/07EEZnn34A
TBT started in 2014 and is a 64-team, single-elimination tournament played in the summer. The winning team takes home $2 million.
However, the 100 teams who applied for this year’s tournament face a far narrower field. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the selection committee will cut down to 24 teams in one host city. This means although the former Ramblers are signed up to play in TBT, they might not qualify.
TBT officials have set a five part plan to ensure safety of all participants. At the core of the plan is testing participants for COVID-19 upon entry, exit and throughout the 10 days. Upon entry, the teams will be quarantined and kept separate for the days leading up to the games, according to an announcement made on May 27.
The official TBT website lays out the following precautions: All participants will be tested again after the quarantine period. A positive result on this second test will lead to the removal of both the individual and their team from the event. Teams that have tested negative will be cleared to participate in TBT. Once cleared for participation, TBT will continue to screen individuals for symptoms daily.
Despite the smaller field, Townes said he’s still excited for the opportunity to play basketball.
“We don’t know when basketball is going to come back,” Townes, 24, said. “It could be tomorrow, it could be later this year. I don’t know. Since they’re going to still put this on in the summer, it’s something to look forward to.”
General Manager for GLE Jake Lorbach said he reached out to Townes on Twitter to gauge his interest in joining GLE. He had already secured four other players — including former University of Illinois at Chicago players Tai Odiase and Tarkus Ferguson — and was looking to fill out his roster.
Townes said he jumped at the opportunity to play. When Townes asked if the team was complete, Lorbach mentioned they needed a forward who was good at shooting. Townes suggested his Final Four running mate Ingram.
“I think I said ‘If you can get me Donte, I’m going to be the happiest person in the world,’” Lorbach said. “That’s just a dream core of guys to be able to start with. They’re all good people. They all come from good programs.”
A different TBT team had reached out to Ingram, but he declined due to the uncertainty and risk factors that came with playing in a pandemic. He said a couple weeks later he got a call from Townes telling him about GLE.
“That’s what sold me,” Ingram, 23, said. “I’m getting an opportunity to play with Marques again. So I was all in.”
Townes and Ingram are both coming off of professional seasons. Ingram has been playing in the NBA G-League — a second tier, developmental league for the NBA — the past two years. He most recently played with the Greensboro Swarm where he averaged 16.6 minutes per game and 4.8 points per match. Townes is finishing his first season with UCAM Murcia in Spain’s top league. He averaged 18.1 minutes per game and 6.1 points per contest.
Both Townes and Ingram had high performing careers at Loyola. Townes capped off his collegiate career with Missouri Valley Conference Play of the Year accolades. This came after finishing first in conference play for the second consecutive year. Townes contributed per game averages of 15.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.6 assists during the 2019-20 season. He was also a key player on the Final Four roster.
Ingram’s Loyola career is most notable for the last-second three-pointer against University of Miami that advanced the Ramblers to the second round of the NCAA tournament. He was named Most Outstanding Player of the MVC Championship and selected to the NCAA South Regional All-Tournament Team.
GLE head coach Eric Flannery — who is also on the team of coaches for USA Basketball — said he didn’t have much of a hand in recruiting players. When Lorbach mentioned securing the former Ramblers on the team, Flannery said he couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Loyola’s Final Four run and a potential TBT run.
“You have two guys who played on an underdog type of team that made a spectacular run,” Flannery said. “This is kind of what the TBT is all about. It’s about putting together a group of guys to make that one-and-done type of feel and atmosphere to try and win a tournament. As a coach I know I have a couple guys there who have been through it and who understand the pressure and ability to just win one game at a time.”
Now that the team is full, Lorbach said the next challenge is getting picked as one of the 24 teams.
The selection committee bases choices off of three factors: competition level, name recognition and support from the community.
“[The selection committee] want teams that have a really good fan base that ensures people are going to support them,” Lorbach said. “Fans who are going to actively engage on social media and actually watch the games when they do come on.”
Lorbach and Flannery agreed GLE has a high competition level with many of their players having a professional career whether it’s in the US or overseas. Lorbach said having names like Odiase, Townes and Ingram bring the name recognition. The piece they are missing is the community support, according to Lorbach.
More than 30 of the 114 teams who applied have experience in TBT so they have a preexisting fanbase. Some of the teams are alumni based — including last year’s winner Carmen’s Crew which was a team made entirely of The Ohio State University alumni.
While it wasn’t intended to build a stronger fanbase, Lorbach said the addition of Townes and Ingram helps build hype around the team.
In order to get the fan base needed people have to either follow the team on Twitter, or sign up to be a fan at thetournament.com. All supporters of the winning team equally split 10% of the $2 million prize. As of publication, GLE has 30 registered supporters and 351 social media followers.
Ultimately, Townes and Ingram are just excited to have the opportunity to wear the same jersey again.
“Marques got there my sophomore year,” Ingram said. “From the jump we clicked. We only got to play with him two years, but knowing him the three years I did we got really close. We did some special things together. [Playing together is] something that just genuinely makes both of us happy.”
Former Loyola players Mitlon Doyle, Montel James and Adarius Avery are also on the rosters for TBT teams The Region, Peoria AllStars and Aztec Nation, respectively.
The 24-team field will be announced in June.