CHARLESTON — The 10-day training camp is over, and now the fun begins for Herd That as they set their sights on a $1 million prize at The Basketball Tournament in Columbus from July 4-14.
On Monday, the team took part in its last practice at South Charleston Community Center, getting in plenty of work with different player combinations to see what fits best as the team gets set for its July 5 opener against Playing For Jimmy V.
The journey for $1 million officially starts on Tuesday morning as the team leaves at 7 a.m. for Columbus to report to the facilities for TBT, which will be a self-quarantined event.
“We’re all on cloud nine and we’re really enjoying it, but it’s a business trip,” Herd That’s Jon Elmore said. “We’re going in and our goal is to win the whole tournament.”
The team’s journey so far has been a unique one — one that has featured four COVID-19 tests to make sure everyone is healthy and an extended trip to The Greenbrier where the team stayed while training in Lewisburg at a remote location for several days.
That journey allowed former Marshall standout Rondale Watson to showcase his hometown of Lewisburg, which featured the world-renowned resort in the middle of a small West Virginia town.
“It was definitely meaningful,” Watson said. “Some of the guys didn’t understand why a place like that was in a small town, but we just showed them that it’s one of the best resorts we’ve ever been to. We all enjoyed going around the entire Greenbrier campus.”
Moments like that have helped build the chemistry of Marshall’s contingent of guys along with newcomers like Chris Cokley, JaCorey Williams, Ryan Luther and Zach Smith.
Cokley, one of two former Conference USA adversaries of the Marshall contingent, said that getting to play that style is one draw to joining the team.
“I never thought I’d be with any of these Marshall guys, but it’s a great, fun experience,” Cokley said. “Even in college, we modeled their game and the way they played basketball, spreading the floor. Obviously, this is going to be fun and we’re going to see what we can do.”
Cokley said the floor spacing has been one area that he and the other post players have concentrated on in camp.
Luther added that there are similarities to his collegiate time at Arizona and Pitt, but the growth from the first practice has been evident.
“It’s something I’ve done in the past — running, pushing the pace — but maybe not quite as extreme,” Luther said.
While chemistry on the offensive end is paramount for the team’s up-tempo style, Monday’s workout session showed the team’s growth on the defensive end over the last two weeks with help-side efforts leading to some transition opportunities.
“The last couple days, we’ve tightened some things up defensively and on the execution end,” Luther said.
On Sunday evening, the team took part in a scrimmage with referees to gauge themselves in a game situation.
What that scrimmage showed is plenty of offense to go around, which was the expectation with the addition of some of the athletic post players inside.
The scrimmage ended locked at 108 with nine guys between the two sides going for double-figures, led by 37 points and 16 rebounds from JaCorey Williams on Team Ot while Cokley led Team Jon with 32 points and nine rebounds.
Jon Elmore joked that he was going to talk to his father — head coach Gay Elmore — about getting more touches, but said the work put forth in a short time had showed itself on the floor.
“The good thing is, no one is selfish and we share the ball well,” Jon Elmore said. “It’s going to get up and down, and it’s going to be fun. We’re going to score points.”
The Basketball Tournament gets underway on Saturday with 24 teams taking part in a winner-take-all tournament with a $1 million purse.
Herd That takes part in the final first-round matchup, which will be on Sunday and televised on ESPN.