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The Men of Mackey Enter The Basketball Tournament

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For the first time there will be a group of Purdue alumni playing in the winner take all The Basketball Tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Wisconsin at Purdue Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

On May 27th, The Basketball Tournament, a winner take all basketball tournament format that’s gained popularity since its inception in 2014, announced its plan to hold a 24 team quarantined tournament at a site and date to be named when safety can be best assured.

The plan is for the tournament to run in July through August. It is a single-elimination bracket where the winning team will take the full 2 million dollar cash prize.

For the firs time, a Purdue alumni team will be put together to compete. As of this moment, 6 players are confirmed.

**

They become ghosts. Four years of eligibility is so fleeting, they burn bright and silhouette away like lights when we close our eyes. They hang up their familiar uniforms in an unfamiliar place. The truth of things is this: one day you will just never be what you were the day before. For most of us this is simply a measure of growth – one day you will be a baker or a surgeon or jobless and the next day you won’t. Sometimes you get a watch for this transition, sometimes there’s no notice at all.

For players, it’s a made or missed basket, a final rebound, a turnover. The lucky, get trophies, rings, a net. They will all one day take their last shot not knowing it.

They will realize when they have to take off their uniform for the last time. March fades away, summer comes, and the seniors move onto jobs, families, and other jerseys.

Purdue doesn’t put names on the back of their jerseys. Just numbers as identity.

You play for the front of your jersey. Who are you when it comes off?

**

He’d be sitting there, front row, the camera unable to not focus on him. It’s his heart. His passion. That smile. In a world living through a pandemic, we could use something so bright, so positively infectious.

Tyler Trent’s father tells Ryan Kay that’s where he’d be if he were still alive. Sitting in the crowd, cheering on the Boilermakers he’d not expected to see play together again. That would be July, or August, in a better world.

But Tyler Trent will be represented in Columbus, Ohio, and then hopefully in Dayton, Ohio for the finals. (The tournament will now be played in just one location.)

Ryan Kay, the GM of the Men of Mackey - Purdue’s alumni group of former basketball stars that will compete in The Basketball Tournament for the first time this year - tells me before they’ve officially announced it, that they will be playing for the Tyler Trent endowment. That if they win, May will donate all of his portion to the Tyler Trent Foundation and that he’d ask the players to donate a portion of theirs as well.

The first six players are announced: Rapheal Davis, Isaac Haas, P. J. Thompson, Grady Eifert, Jon Octeus, and Ryan Cline.

The Captain, The Titan, The Leader, The Walk-On, The Baptist, and The Shooter.

There is not an NCAA tournament win or a Big Ten title in the last six seasons that one of those six didn’t have their hands on.

A funny thing happens to college athletes when they graduate. They start to distort and grow. They are no longer a personal entity but a collaboration of feelings, a collection of highlights, and these moments and emotions get distilled down until they are no longer players but metaphors and legends. They become fables of themselves, reborn in players to follow them.

Some have little brothers that follow in their foot steps.

But sometimes players transcend past reincarnation. Sometimes they become so near religious that they cleanse an entire rivalry into holy submersion.

The Basketball Tournament taps into this nostalgia in the same way alumni games do, with the added caveat of these games matter and those aren’t other alumni against you. You’re not playing for banners or trophies, but money and nostalgia and for one more time, Purdue. For this team and this school, they will be playing for one other thing, a person who became a movement, a desire to be more and do more to do better.

Tyler Trent is as close to a super hero you’ll ever find in a world that could use them.

When Tyler Trent took over the college sports world, it would have been easy for his story to pile up on top of all the other inspirational and tragic tales of young kids taken too early from us, and to fade away.

But sometimes the things that burn the brightest can spark a fire that lives long past them. Trent made his way to midfield, to Sportscenter, and as his physical body failed him, his spirit supported all of us, and hardened into a statue outside of Ross-Ade Stadium.

In a sporting world where fans will unlikely be allowed into arenas for some time, Trent’s spirit with fill up the arena with black and gold. He’ll have the front row all to himself.

**

It starts at a golf fundraiser.

Ryan Kay is a name you probably don’t know, but he’s got some plaques of his own. In 2015, he was the recipient of the Outstanding Young Alumni Award after graduating from the Krannert School of Management in 2009. He’s now the chairman of finance of the board of directors for the Purdue Alumni Association.

But this story starts when he was the alumni director for the board of trustees for the Indiana north district and he asked Grady Eifert to speak at an event.

“I was kicking myself for not thinking of it,” Grady tells me over the phone. In hindsight, it was obvious as soon as Kay pulled him aside and mentioned getting a team together for The Basketball Tournament.

So obvious that Jon Octeus was just waiting, he knew it would eventually happen. He’s one of two Boilers currently signed up to play that’s already competed in The Basketball Tournament. His two appearances in the tournament were both successful but fell just short. He’s confident this team also has the collective talent and smarts it takes to challenge further.

Isaac Haas, the towering center who tormented the Big Ten for four years, is the other Boilermaker with TBT experience. He thinks the players familiarity and mindset will be a huge advantage in July.

“I think last year it was just a matter of guys not playing together… It kind of allowed the other teams to take advantage of that… That’s why I’m super excited this year to play with Purdue and all the alumni guys. These guys aren’t gonna hog the ball. They’re just gonna pass it, gonna get great shots. Do what it takes to win, ya know? That’s why I loved playing with those guys back in college. That’s why I’m gonna love playing with them now.”

Those difficulties for teams just thrown together for this tournament won’t be there with a group that’s spent most of their career playing together.

Even Jon Octeus, who played for Coach Painter as a grad transfer, and was on the team prior to Thompson and Haas’ freshman team, is familiar with the roster on and off the court.

“The guys I didn’t play with, I spent the following year rehabbing with those guys[torn ACL]. I lived with some of them.” They aren’t just players that shared the same jersey as him, they’re family.

But for the man behind the scenes, Kay, the team’s GM, getting all this organized and players on board has been its own reward because he is, like us, a fan of Purdue basketball. He valued getting the right players, and luckily for him, Purdue has a whole lot of them to choose from.

Which is why this team’s roster reads like it does – full of fan favorites, hard workers, and Boilermakers who continue to support each other and the program.

As the world starves for any distraction, this July and August, hopefully, Purdue fans will be able to look to the past for entertainment.

This is The Basketball Tournament and these are your Men of Mackey.

Stay tuned to Hammer and Rails for all your Men of Mackey news as well as profiles on the players and what their lives have been like away from West Lafayette.