ROLAND, Ark. — As his squad scrimmages at the HBLA gym in Roland, Jimmy Whitt can’t help but laugh.
“It’s kind of like a pickup game, but slightly more organized.”
Also, a cool million bucks are on the line. It’s the return of the succinctly named “The Basketball Tournament,” and the return of Team Arkansas, a squad made up largely of guys with Natural State ties. It’s officially listed as a University of Arkansas alumni team, but head coach Monty Patel made it an emphasis to recruit guys connected to the entire state.
“That’s the biggest thing for me, it’s representing our state.”
The roster is a blast from the past for Hog fans, from Sonny Weems and Courtney Fortson to Jaylen Barford, Trey Wade, and Whitt. Barford, a Tennessee native who played two seasons at Arkansas, calls the Natural State his second home.
“Arkansas took me in like one of their own so it’s been fun since I’ve been here.”
Wade only played one memorable season with the Hogs, but it clearly made an impact.
“My last year at Arkansas was fun, making it to the Elite 8, and being part of this family is gonna be a big pleasure for me.”
“You never think you’re going to put the uniform on again,” says Whitt. “I think it’s a really cool experience just to rep the entire state of Arkansas.”
It’s not just Hogs. Between players and coaches, Harding, A-State, and UAFS are all represented. Brock Widders, the team’s associate head coach, is an assistant at UCA.
“We have a lot of pride in this state no matter where we played college basketball. Just the fact that we grew up in this state means a lot to us.”
This will be Team Arkansas’ fourth crack at The Basketball Tournament. They’ve never made it passed the second round, but Patel is feeling confident in his second year at the helm.
“We’ve got a lot of leaders. People don’t realize how good these guys were, even if they’re not in the NBA, how high and elite players they are, so for us, it’s just about pride.”
64 teams will compete for the winner-take-all million dollar prize, in a single-elimination bracket. Team Arkansas is the 2-seed in the Omaha Region and gets going Saturday at 1:00p.m Central against DaGuys STL.