Former area high school basketball stars C.J. Fair and Donte Greene received big ovations returning to Baltimore on Tuesday night, as the former Syracuse stars were playing for Boeheim's Army in the semifinals of The Basketball Tournament at Coppin State.
Their opponent, two-time defending tournament champion Overseas Elite, was not quite as kind.
Behind a 15-point performance from Errick McCollum, Overseas Elite claimed an 81-77 win over Boeheim's Army with Fair (City) scoring 10 points and Greene adding four in the losing cause.
"It was definitely a pleasure coming back to Baltimore where I'm from, playing in front of family and friends – it meant a lot," Fair said. "We didn't get it done but I still felt the love tonight in the arena and I appreciated that."
Overseas Elite, which is now 18-0 in its third year competing in the tournament, will meet Team Challenge ALS — an 88-83 double overtime winner over Ohio State alums Scarlet & Gray — in the championship game set for 7 p.m. Thursday. The last team standing in the 64-team field will take home $2 million in prize money. The game will be aired live on ESPN.
Steeped in basketball tradition, Baltimore jumped at the chance to check out quality hoops with the stands filled close to capacity at the 4,00-seat Physical Education Complex. The fans weren't disappointed, getting a tightly contested opener and then the chance to see hometown products in Fair and Greene do their thing in the second game.
"Baltimore basketball is great," Fair said. "We get a lot of respect around the country. Everyone knows if you go up against a Baltimore guy, he's going to go hard, he's going to play aggressive. That's our motto because Baltimore is a tough city and that's how we try to play on the court."
Casper Ware scored 25 points to lead Team Challenge ALS, the tournament's Cinderella team which has beaten four straight higher seeded teams to reach Thursday's championship game.
Among the basketball dignitaries on hand were Ernie Graham (Dunbar, Maryland) and Shawnta Rogers (Lake Clifton, George Washington), along with current Maryland assistant coach Bino Ranson, former Ohio State coach Thad Matta and legendary area high school coach Mike Daniel.
For Graham, watching the Orioles in the summer is OK, but the chance to see some basketball this time of year is a huge bonus. He and the crowd saw plenty Tuesday.
"This is nice, man. I'm enjoying it — some great basketball," said Graham, who was joined by his son, former Calvert Hall standout Jonathan. "Baltimore is a basketball town and it's great to see a high level being played. We're going to enjoy every minute of it and we'll be back on Thursday."
The tournament, which began in 2014, features an NCAA Tournament-like one-and-done format and has grown in popularity every year. In early July, teams from four regions started the quest for the winner-take-all prize.
Baltimore native and NBA star Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic) was instrumental in bringing the final leg of the event to Baltimore this summer.
Montgomery County residents Abdul Jordan, 40, and his 11-year-old son, Bryan, were at Coppin for a youth tennis tournament when they stumbled on the opportunity to watch some competitive basketball.
"We were parked right outside and everybody was talking about it, so we decided to come in," said Abdul, who heard about alums from Ohio State and Syracuse taking part along with ESPN. "[Bryan] plays more basketball than tennis, so we decided to check it out."
Added Bryan: "[I'm excited] to see all the different players — maybe some I've seen before — and stuff like that. It's on ESPN, so maybe I'll be on TV."
Today, Anthony, the tournament host, will team with TBT and Mayor Catherine Pugh for several volunteer activities centered on giving back to the community. The day will begin with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and include a job fair, health and wellness fair and a park beautification project.