CARY, N.C. (WGHP) — Going in, no one really knew what to expect. People had seen, “The Basketball Tournament,” the idea run by, among other people, Winston-Salem’s NBA star, Chris Paul so there were hints.
Over the course of a decade, The Basketball Tournament went from a fun idea to bring in people who had recently played at the top of the basketball game for a little fun to a major event that is drawing dozens of former NBA players and televised by ESPN.
When Mike Volk and Henry Tambon – who played college soccer together at the University of Virginia – were watching The Basketball Tournament on their sofa in New York, one day, they thought, “Why don’t we do that for soccer?” So, they connected with The Basketball Tournament folks and put together a soccer version.
It’s just that few realized what a big hit it would be, right away. Legendary clubs like Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, Wolverhampton and West Ham United (whom many non-soccer fans got to know through the popular television series, Ted Lasso) all sent teams with players who were big stars not very long ago.
“To travel out here, brilliant tournament, great stage, to be together with everyone and represent West Ham, it was great,” said West Ham player Matt Jarvis, who played for both West Ham and was the player-of-the-year for Wolverhampton, as well, during his career.
There were aspiring teams, as well, such as Say Word FC, representing the Triad and organized by former player Russell Morgan, who grew up in Greensboro, played at Northeast Guilford as well as the old Greensboro Youth Soccer club that did well by using their fitness, speed and surprised some of the former pros with their skill, as well.
“With these games, your concentration has to be on at all times. Whenever you’re part of a team and play these games in training, the ability to switch on and react to things quickly and always be switched on, tactically, is what you need to do. And this is the real challenge – it’s 40 minutes and then you’ve got to go again so it’s always about concentration,” said Matt Jones who played almost a dozen years in the English Premier League with teams like Manchester United and Burnley.
Say Word won one of its three games but gave a good showing, gaining invaluable experience in the tournament.
“I tried to save everything I could but there were some I just couldn’t get to,” said Tyler Yates who was one of the goalkeepers for Say Word FC. Yates played at Northern Guilford, with NC Fusion and now plays at Averett University in Danville, Virginia. “I came here not knowing what to expect and then seeing our group – seeing the teams we were playing – it definitely made me a better player, overall.”
“It’s amazing. The experience they have, the quality, it shows how professional they are, it’s something to be admired,” says Diego Giffuni, who also played with NC Fusion and now plays at Averett University.
See more of their experience in this edition of The Buckley Report.