With Boeheim’s Army headed to The Basketball Tournament’s Final Four this week, we wanted to catch up with the team on the wild ride to get to the event’s final weekend. Luckily, team general manager Kevin Belbey was willing to sit down with us for an exclusive Q&A about what it’s been like to run Boeheim’s Army for the last few years. That full interview is included below:
On organizing the first ever TBT Team
Kevin Belbey: I knew about the TBT in 2014, and genuinely thought there was 85 percent chance it was all a scam. It sounded too good to be true. At that time, someone from TBT reached out to me, and they sent me a one page PDF with the idea. I didn’t think it could be done or it was legit. Then I thought I couldn’t convince guys to give up their summers for something I had no proof of concept. So after the first year, Notre Dame alumni made the finals and ESPN paid attention to it and picked up the championship game on ESPNU. The Notre Dame alumni won it so I said to myself “If they can do it, Syracuse can definitely do it,” and the idea was born.
Funny enough, the idea really started to come to fruition at Faegan’s Cafe and Pub one summer night in 2014. I saw Eric Devendorf there and asked him if he had seen the tournament at all. Eric and I weren’t close because we didn’t overlap at all, but we casually knew each other. But I asked him if he had watched and told him I would love to put a Syracuse Orange team together. I told him what the prize money was and he thought it would be awesome. So Eric sounded like he was in so the next guy I went to was Hakim Warrick.
Hakim actually played in the original version of TBT on a team with Marshall Henderson, which didn’t make it that far. He was familiar with the tournament, it was based out of his home city of Philly and he believed in it and liked the idea of a Syracuse team. Having Eric and Hakim were a great first two recruits to get others interested, a good inside-out combo, and everything got rolling from there.
On pitching TBT and Boeheim’s Army
KB: I think at this point it speaks for itself. But something I like to mention to guys is the exposure it provides. Being on ESPN all summer if you win, with scouts at games it gives guys who are on the edge or fringe something just as valuable as the prize money. That’s my pitch, it’s not just about the prize money or exposure, it’s also a shot at redemption. I still think there’s a lot of guys who in the back of their hearts and minds think “we never won a National Championship in our time at SU. And we want to win a championship together.” Obviously the money is huge, but I think that if and when we win a championship when that final buzzer goes, we’re just going to be excited that we accomplished a goal together.
On the team’s 25-point comeback over FOE
KB: I felt like I was honestly going to faint on the sidelines. I can’t say enough about what an incredible experience that was. I knew that we had the talent to come back, but it was whether or not we were going to be able to put up the fight or not. I was nervous because I thought that our body language was not all that positive; looking back on it now it was the guys being calm. I interpreted it as not being fully into the game, but instead they were very calm. Nobody was blaming anyone, no one was pointing fingers. It was confidence that we could get back into it.
It was really an anti-Syracuse thing but the comeback started from the free throw line. There were obviously a lot of big threes, and James Southerland, John Gillon and Eric Devendorf being aggressive. But we were able to stop the clock and score points. It all just kind of avalanched from there.
We’ve obviously been talking all week on group chat, but it’s funny. I’m part of the team; I’m the GM, but I’m a fan first. I was able to totally appreciate the win and watch the highlights about 100 times but in our team group chat, no one was even talking about. It’s all business and on to next week.
On the Final Four
KB: They haven’t talked about any other teams aside from Oversees Elite right now. There’s not really any reason to get hyped up scouting any other teams right now and right now everyone is focused on the task at hand. Our guys respect them but are not fearful of them.
On Scarlet and Grey’s Ohio State connections
KB: Everyone remembers the Ohio State game. I remember that I wasn’t going to travel with the team to the Final Four, so I was looking at plane and game tickets on my cellphone at halftime, and game didn’t turn out the way we wanted. None of the guys forget that game and I know that would be a fun potential matchup for the fans and for ESPN.
On how much family really is involved:
KB: It really turns into a family atmosphere. For a lot of these guys who went overseas, if they have wives or girlfriends or parents or kids, no one comes with them. No one is coming to Russia, to Spain to Italy or France for just eight to nine months. If the family is lucky, those games are streamed on Facebook or aired on an international website. TBT gives them an opportunity to change that.
Last year, Hakim (Warrick) got to play in front of his five/six year old son in a competitive game for the first time ever. Eric has two young daughters and I don’t think they had the chance to see him play a meaningful game in-person before TBT. Everyone’s families come out and it turns into a big reunion for them and the fans.
On the fan support
KB: When I was putting the team together back in 2015 before it was publicly announced, I was a little self conscious and nervous that it wouldn’t stick. Obviously in retrospect that was a really dumb thought because this tournament has caught on like wildfire. This year has been especially remarkable because we’ve had so many special moments. Outside of the first game, every win has been a classic.
The first game we blow a 20-point lead and come back in double OT. The second game we can’t buy a three and Brandon Triche, with a dislocated finger on his shooting hand, makes a three to put us ahead, and that’s before the 25 point comeback!
It’s been a blast to be a part of and it’s been really neat to see people get absolutely energized about this. I had a friend from law school text me that her husband went on eBay and bought an old Eric Devendorf jersey and is wearing it to the game in Baltimore. These guys love the fans and it’s been something that’s really special. We really know that we can beat any of the teams left not just on the talent we have but because of the support of Orange Nation.