A former VCU star running in the same backcourt as a former Richmond star? Surrounded by two more former VCU standouts and a former William & Mary star?
If you stuck your head into the gym at RockIt Sports on East Parham Road early Thursday morning, that’s what you would’ve seen. It was an amalgamation of talents, former rivals joining forces as part of Mat Shelton-Eide’s brainchild for The Basketball Tournament, the annual summer basketball event that pits teams against each other for big money.
Shelton-Eide organized a VCU alumni team for TBT play for four years before moving on to a new concept — a team made up of former players from schools around Virginia, not just VCU. Named “Bleed Virginia,” the group will make its debut in this year’s TBT on Saturday.
On Thursday morning, members of the team met for their first team scrimmage runs. It brought shades of winters past to July, with UR alum ShawnDre’ Jones speeding and weaving his way to the basket, VCU alums Marcus Evans and Issac Vann knocking down 3-pointers, VCU alum Corey Douglas slamming home an alley-oop and swatting a shot, and William & Mary alum Terry Tarpey impacting on multiple fronts.
Even for a first real session together, the cohesion was apparent. And the group, though not entirely complete Thursday, seemed pleased with how the practice went, with their first game set for 7 p.m. Saturday in TBT’s first round against a team called “D2” as part of the tournament’s West Virginia Regional. It’ll be streamed online via ESPN3.
“I wasn’t expecting this type of chemistry. Especially with the guard play ... So I think it was pretty good,” Bleed Virginia coach Bo Jones Jr. said after the practice. “I was pleased with the ball movement. The ball handling was fine. Our speed should be a good thing.”
Bleed Virginia’s scrimmage opponent Thursday was a group that included current Richmond pillars Grant Golden, Jacob Gilyard and Tyler Burton, as well as the 2019 Atlantic 10 player of the year who was in town, former Davidson star Jon Axel Gudmundsson.
It made for high-level competition. Jones, himself a former VCU basketball standout (1998-2001) who’s currently an assistant coach at Richard Bland College, on Thursday had his eyes peeled on how his players would gel, including their timing and ball movement.
What he saw was promising, he said. The group of opponents didn’t let up, and there was some trash talking floated back to Bleed Virginia, which Jones appreciated, putting a bit of pressure on his group before the real thing. He feels his team will be strong defensively in TBT play and hopes to score in transition. Most of the players already have pro experience under their belt, either stateside or abroad.
Shelton-Eide, a VCU alumnus, dove into his idea for a Virginia-wide team earlier this year, with Ram Nation tabled for now. In addition to Douglas, Evans, Jones, Tarpey and Vann, it’s set to include Ed Polite Jr. (Radford), Reggie Williams (VMI), James Daniel (who finished his career at Tennessee), Ameer Jackson (finished at Winston-Salem State), Osasu Osaghae Jr. (FIU) and Baylee Steele (finished at Duquesne). Teams can also add a fan to the roster, and this year’s is former Midlothian boys basketball player Ashton Philipp, who was among those playing Thursday.
Jones was part of a Richmond alumni TBT team in 2019 called “The Web.” He explored bringing it back this year, but it fell through. But Shelton-Eide reached out and he agreed to be a part of Bleed Virginia.
“It’s really different,” Jones said. “I’m interested to see how the fans react to this mixture, this gumbo, of [Virginia] schools. Who really are rivals throughout the year. And now we’re coming together as a collective.”
In the West Virginia Regional, Bleed Virginia is the No. 10 seed and D2 is No. 7.
D2, a team made up of former Division II players, is in its third iteration. It won its first game in 2019, and Mike Davis Jr. helped lead with 16 points. He’s one of the players back this year, as well as Todd Withers — they were Queens University teammates who were part of the team that beat VCU in a preseason exhibition in 2016. D2’s coach, Grant Leonard, is Queen’s associate head coach and part of the Queens coaching staff that faced VCU.
“We definitely can’t sleep on them,” Vann said. “We’re the underdogs in this game so, obviously, we expect them to come out, play with confidence, play hard and give us a good challenge.”
West Virginia Regional games will be contested at Charleston Coliseum. Bleed Virginia members will travel Friday and have some practice time there before tip-off Saturday. Each of TBT’s 64 teams are vying for a $1 million, winner-take-all prize this year.
Also, Philipp will take part in a TBT 3-point shooting contest, with $33,333 up for grabs. He’s been practicing for a handful of hours each day to get ready.
“Trying to get prepared, and trying to surprise some people,” said Philipp, who will attend Liberty, where he will attempt to walk on to the basketball team.
Shelton-Eide, who works in real estate, always has enjoyed creating — making something from scratch. His undergraduate VCU degree is in painting and printmaking, he owns hoops sites RamNation.com and A10Talk.com, and he is the former owner of two clothing stores.
Bleed Virginia is his latest creation. The finished product will be determined on the TBT court soon.
“It’s grown in popularity and people watch it and it’s just such an exciting tournament,” Shelton-Eide said of TBT. “So I think we’ve got some guys that are excited to play in this particular event.”