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‘In this thing, if you’re not first, you’re last’: Herd That seeks deep run in TBT

Herd That’s debut in the 2020 version of The Basketball Tournament gained national notoriety and included a thrilling 102-99 victory over The Money Team, allowing Marshall’s alumni-based team to reach the quarterfinals of the downsized event.

In the quarterfinal, Herd That met its match and fell to Overseas Elite, ending a run that featured two wins in the single elimination format.

“We didn’t have a ton of expectations going in,” recalled guard Jon Elmore, a former Marshall star and Conference USA’s all-time leading scorer. “It was a new tournament for us and we were putting the Marshall brand out there for the world to see. But this year our goal is to win it. In this thing, if you’re not first, you’re last. We kind of burst on to the scene last year and hope to build off that.”

The second go-around for Herd That in the TBT begins at noon Saturday against Team DRC, named after and sponsored by former NFL All-Pro cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

While Herd That was the No. 23 seed among 24 teams in last year’s TBT, it did enough to warrant being the No. 3 seed this year in one of four 16-team regionals at the Charleston Coliseum. Best Virginia, the West Virginia alumni team, is the No. 2 seed in the same regional, meaning the teams would meet in the round of 16 should they win their first two games.

“It’s going to be very high level basketball and the Mountain State loves their basketball, so I expect it to be a madhouse in there trying to root their teams on,” said Ot Elmore, the brother of Jon and another former Marshall player.

Five of the team’s 10 members played for Marshall — both Elmores, Rondale Watson, Stevie Browning and James Kelly. Kelly is the only new addition to this year’s team with Marshall ties. The remainder of the roster features two players back from last year — Jacorey Williams and Santino DiTrapano — along with new members Ronald Delph, Darin Johnson and Derek Cooke.

Delph is a 7-footer who played against Marshall while at Florida Atlantic. Cooke, a 6-9 forward, played with Jon Elmore two years ago in Italy, while Johnson is a 6-5 guard who played at Washington and Cal State Northridge.

“We’re going to score the ball, shoot a lot of threes and play an exciting brand of basketball,” Jon Elmore said. “That’s what we want to do, but our goal was to add more length and athleticism so we can defend the perimeter and interior better. One of the reasons we lost last year was we couldn’t string together enough stops. I expect us to be just as good or better on offense and ideally a lot better on defense.”

Four key components of Herd That a year ago — Chris Coakley, Zach Smith, Ryan Luther and Ryan Taylor — will not be playing, though Taylor is helping in a coaching role as an assistant to head coach Gay Elmore, the father of Jon and Ot.

“Last year’s team was awesome and one of our big things is the ultimate goal is to win the tournament, but we’re huge on the process and training camp,” Jon Elmore said. “We spend a lot of time together, do team meals and we have fun every step of the way. It was a process to try and find guys that could be good representatives of Marshall, but we still have a Marshall-based team and then added guys we’re familiar with.”

For Ot Elmore, the TBT is an opportunity to resume playing competitive basketball. While the bulk of Herd That’s roster plays professionally, Ot Elmore just finished his first year of law school.

“I have a unique perspective, because a lot of these guys are playing professionally and getting paid,” Ot Elmore said. “I’m in law school and I’ve been going to class for 364 days and here comes day 365 and I’m lacing them up on ESPN playing basketball. How much better can it get?”

Ot Elmore says he still plays pickup basketball several days a week, though that pales in comparison to the upcoming challenges he’ll face.

“A lot of these guys are overseas and the guys I’m playing with are 40 and 50 years old, so it’s a little bit of a speed difference,” he said. “I go from being the fastest guy on the court to the slowest.”

TBT rosters are constantly in flux until the event begins, making game-planning difficult and watching film tough to come by. However, Herd That may have a slight advantage in its opening round game as Jon Elmore is familiar with several members of Team DRC. Toarlyn Fitzpatrick of South Florida and Jeremy Hollowell, who played at Indiana and Georgia State, were both teammates of Elmore’s in Greece last season. Additionally, Elmore played against Team DRC guard Jermaine Love.

“It’s hard to prepare, because unless you make it to the second or third round, most likely there’s no film of them playing together previously,” Jon Elmore said. “But it’s funny how small the basketball world really is, especially when you’re playing in the same country as a lot of these guys.”

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