When Tory Jackson’s decorated career at Notre Dame ended in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, he like many others assumed that it would be his last time playing for the Fighting Irish.
After playing professionally overseas and in the NBA G League, for Jackson, there was no better feeling than wearing the Irish green and hearing fans scream in the Joyce Center.
In a surprising turn of events, Jackson got a chance to rekindle old memories as he and other Notre Dame Alumni entered the inaugural TBT Tournament in 2014 as the Notre Dame Fighting Alumni.
In addition to Jackson, Ty Nash, Rob Kurz, Chris Thomas, Zach Hillesland, Russell Carter, Torin Francis, Collin Falls, Ryan Ayers, and former Seton Hall guard Paul Gause rounded out the roster. The team, which was coached by Kieran Piller and Jordan Cornette who also played for the Fighting Irish.
While the Fighting Alumni team walked away with a $500,000 check and bragging rights, it was the chance to play with the Fighting Irish brothers that brought joy to Jackson.
“I’m not going to lie, it was great to win the money, but it was great to be around the guys and to represent the best university in the world in Notre Dame,” Jackson told TSFJ.
Since the start of the basketball tournament, teams meticulously select who’s on their roster to get a chance to win the ultimate cash prize of the summer. For the Fighting Alumni, their trek toward a championship was a unique one.
“We were originally in Philadelphia for a mini-reunion just to hang with some of the guys,” Jackson looked back. “Ironically, it turned into a weekend-long hoop session. I wasn’t even prepared, because I was hooping in some old LeBrons I had in my travel bag.”
Despite Jackson not having his ideal hoop shoes, he channeled his inner Calvin Cambridge and it didn’t stop him and the Fighting Alumni. Jackson notes that if it wasn’t for the alumni and fan base of Notre Dame they wouldn’t have been selected for the tournament.
“The fan voting is similar to what it is today for the TBT. With Notre Dame have a huge amount of alumni across the world, we got in at the last minute. Once we got selected, we couldn’t let the alumni and the university down.
“After we secured our spot, we didn’t care what seed we had. It was time to rock out and play. We won our first game against the NYC Superstars, and after that, we knew we had something.”
As the 10th seed, the Fighting Alumni didn’t expect to make noise, but they did more than that. While in Philadelphia for the opening rounds, they rattled off impressive wins against Sideline Cancer (who will play for this year’s TBT Championship), The CITI Team, and Peaceplace International, ultimately landing themselves in the semifinals.
“It was so dope, the experience was amazing. It brought back the feel we had when we played for Coach (Mike) Brey and Notre Dame,” Jackson reflected. “We ran our same sets on offense and played the same defenses we played in college. Outside of the older guys in Torin Francis and Chris Thomas, most of us played together so the chemistry was still there.”
After sweeping through the gauntlet of competition in Philadelphia, the Fighting Army flew to Boston for the Finals as they defeated Team Barstool in the inaugural 2014 TBT Championship for the grand prize of $500,000.
“When I saw the check after we won the game, I knew it was real. We all got a nice share of the money, but we also gave some back to the University.”
Six years later, the TBT is the biggest basketball spectacle of the summer and the total prize amount has fluctuated from $1,000,000 to $2,000,000. Jackson, who is now the head varsity basketball coach at Saginaw Heritage High School says that guard play is key for whoever wins the tournament this year.
“If you look at history, each winning team had great guard play. Our team had me, Russ (Carter), and Chris (Thomas) on our championship team. Overseas Elite had Errick McCollum and a lot of other guys, and the Ohio State team had guys like Aaron Craft and (David) Lighty.
For those who know Jackson, he is competitive as it gets. He continues to play in adult basketball leagues. On any given night he can light up the scoreboard just as he did at Buena Vista High School and Notre Dame. Hanging up the sneakers hasn’t crossed his mind, but before he does he wants another shot at the TBT title.
“People forget about us, because of the run Overseas Elite went on, but we were the first TBT Champions,” Jackson pointed out.
“I’m bouncing back from an Achilles injury that happened a year ago, but the plan is to play in next year’s tournament. I haven’t said much to the guys about it, but I know they would be up for the challenge just as we were in 2014.”
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp