Former Louisville walk-on grad transfer Keith Oddo started his college basketball career at Richmond and was impressed with the Spiders’ foray into The Basketball Tournament the past two summers.
The $1 million winner-take-all tourney, referred to as TBT, features teams of college alumni and non-NBA-playing professionals in a single-elimination bracket. Oddo loved the camaraderie of Richmond’s alumni-driven team and initially thought about helping the Spiders’ group this summer.
“That’s when I was like, ‘Let’s get this Louisville thing underway. We’ve got to get this team going,'” Oddo said.
Oddo is now the general manager and head coach of a Cardinals team that has yet to be named but will debut in a field of 64 TBT contenders. He was inspired to organize a U of L group as a tribute to the program, which gave him many good memories in 2019-20, and to reunite former Cardinals players.
“My experience at Louisville was unbelievable, not just from a playing standpoint but learning from Coach (Chris) Mack,” said Oddo, who just finished a season as a grad assistant at Akron under John Groce. “I had unbelievable teammates that I’m going to be friends with for years to come. These are my brothers. So it’s about just being able to give back to Louisville basketball.”
The tournament begins July 16 at regional sites and culminates in an Aug. 3 championship at Dayton’s UD Arena. The event, which launched in 2014, abides by the Elam Ending, an end-of-game format that targets a score instead of abiding by a game clock to cut down on intentional fouls and a slog of free throws.
Cardinals standout Luke Hancock will serve as Oddo’s assistant coach on a staff that is still being assembled. The team is under construction, too. Oddo would like to have 10 players in U of L jerseys and has a good idea of the group forming in coming weeks.
In the meantime, he has announced several names over social media to pique fans’ interest. Samardo Samuels, Ryan McMahon and Chane Behanan are officially TBT team members.
“The one that was really fun for me so far was Chane because I remember watching that title game and being like, ‘Wow, that guy’s a dog. He’s a beast out there,'” Oddo said.
“As soon as I reached out to Chane, he said immediately in response: ‘Absolutely. I’m on board. Who else do you want me to get?’ Not only do these guys want to play, but they want to get some of their former teammates involved. And not make this just about basketball but bringing former Cards back to the Ville.”
The plan is to fly TBT players to Louisville four or five days before the regional so they can practice and potentially connect with fans. TBT regionals are in Kansas (July 16-20), West Virginia (July 17-21), Ohio (July 23-27) and Illinois (July 24-28), and all TBT games will be televised live on ESPN Networks with fans in attendance.
Oddo said U of L can choose between the West Virginia regional in Charleston or the Ohio regional in Columbus. He’s reviewing travel logistics and expects to make a destination announcement in the next two weeks.
Fundraising is another huge component Oddo is addressing with a GoFundMe account. The goal is $10,000. The donations, as of this writing, trended toward $1,700.
“A lot of people think you just grab a couple former players, you get your shoes, you lace them up and you’re on the court and you’re ready to play in the tournament. The reality is, that’s why the Louisville team hasn’t happened in the last couple years. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that I personally didn’t even know about until I started really diving into it,” Oddo said.
Financial responsibilities include travel to Louisville and the regional, housing and meals. The TBT provides aid for teams that advance to championship week, which starts July 31 with quarterfinals.
The TBT bracket will be unveiled June 28. Count Oddo among those ecstatic that Louisville will be part of it.
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“Just to be able to be in a position to bring Louisville players back to the area, both past and present, who have given so much during their playing careers to Louisville (is exciting),” Oddo said. “But I also know how much they want to give back to the Ville, experience the fans one more time, give back to the community.
“Being in a position to make this happen was something I honestly wanted to do last year but COVID made it so uncertain. So this year just seemed like the perfect time to really put our heads down and back up our talk.”
Reach Shannon Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @slrussell.