MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Two weeks from today, Best Virginia begins play in The Basketball Tournament (TBT), with the West Virginia alumni team facing WoCo Showtime, a squad comprised largely of Wofford alums.
It will mark the second-ever appearance for Best Virginia in the TBT after the team split two games in 2019. A year ago, Best Virginia was forced to withdraw from the event due to covid-related issues.
The 2021 version will allow Best Virginia to play its opener and potentially up to three games at the Charleston Coliseum, with Charleston one of four regional sites.
“We would’ve loved to be in it last year. It wasn’t in Charleston last year, but it’s even better to be in it this year, because it’s in West Virginia in front of our fans,” said John Flowers, a four-year impact player for the Mountaineers from 2008-2011. “We have homecourt advantage, so I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Best Virginia’s official roster lists 12 members of the team — guards Alex Ruoff, Chase Harler, Jaysean Paige, Juwan Staten, Tarik Phillip and Teyvon Myers, along with forwards Sagaba Konate, Nathan Adrian, Jonathan Holton, Kevin Jones, Flowers and center Logan Routt.
The team, one of 64 in the TBT, began preparations for the tournament last week. Eight of 12 players — all but Paige, Phillip, Myers and Holton — were on hand for Wednesday’s practice in Morgantown.
First-year Best Virginia coach James Long, a former Mountaineer player himself, said the absences were expected ahead of two exhibition games July 7 in Beckley and July 9 in Wheeling.
“We put this all together late. This minicamp and these first three days, we talked about this a week ago,” Long said. “There are guys that had vacations planned and things that we couldn’t work around, but we just wanted to make sure that before these exhibition games, we at least got a couple practices in to put a good product on the floor for the fans paying to come.”
Long is a Charleston native who began his college career at Wofford before transferring to West Virginia, where he was a member of the team from 2013-2017. He is the current head coach at WVU Tech in Beckley.
Former WVU standout and current Wheeling University assistant coach Da’Sean Butler and Morgantown High coach Dave Tallman are assistants for Best Virginia.
“It’s so cool being around these guys,” Long said. “Guys I played with, guys I grew up watching and I’ve gotten to know. We’re all a family now, so it’s great to be around everybody. This is as competitive a group of people as I’ve ever been around in my life, so the excitement built around competing for the championship is tangible for sure.”
For Staten, currently a graduate assistant manager at West Virginia, the TBT provides an opportunity for one of the Mountaineers’ more successful guards in the last decade to resume playing.
“I love to stay around basketball. I’m going to always be in shape and ready to play,” Staten said. “My motto is to stay ready so you don’t have to get ready. I’m going to always be in some type of basketball shape. Whether it’s being here training and working with the guys on a coaching level, hopping in an open gym or playing in the TBT, it’s just fun for me. Basketball is a huge part of my life and as long as I’m doing it, I know I’m doing something right.”
Staten was a member of the 2019 TBT team, which beat Old Dominion alum-based Seven City Royalty, before losing to then four-time defending TBT champion Overseas Elite in the second round.
Staten suffered a wrist injury in the 2019 opener that prevented him from playing in the second-round setback.
“It felt good to win the game and be part of the TBT as extravagant as it is. For me personally, it was a little downer that I got hurt and wasn’t able to play the second game,” Staten said. “But it was an overall great experience. We played a team that had won it four years in a row. That gave us a good understanding of where we are as a team and what we need to do for the next time we’re in the tournament. That time is now and hopefully we do what we plan to do.”