The Basketball Tournament
Zoo Crew Full of Pitt Alums Set to Play for $2 Million
Saturday night, Tyrell Biggs, Gilbert Brown, Jermaine Dixon, Levance Fields, Antonio Graves, Gary McGhee will take the court wearing familiar blue and gold uniforms.
Don’t adjust your set, and no, the NCAA hasn’t granted the mother of all eligibility waivers. The former Panthers will be playing in The Tournament, a third-year summer tournament where the winners get to split $2 million and players can get valuable exposure in front of NBA scouts.
Many of the teams are organized into alumni groups, with former players that have spread out into pro career getting back together to represent their alma mater one more time.
The team that’s made up mostly of Pitt alumni is called The Zoo Crew, and their opening-round game is Saturday in Columbus at 6 p.m. against the Jackson, Tn. Underdawgs.
It’ll be the third year in the The Tournament for many of the players, but the first time their first-round game will be played so close to Pittsburgh, so they convened at their old stomping grounds this week for a practice or two before heading out to Columbus, and the current Pitt players joined it.
“We have a group of guys who love to play the game of basketball and are ready to make a title run this year,” Brown said. “Having the opportunity to train together for three days at Pitt in advance of this weekend will really help our preparation.”
New Pitt coach Jeff Capel is one of the team’s biggest boosters, and that, combined with the invite to practice at The Pete, has gone a long way to endearing himself to the previous generation of Pitt basketball stars.
“I think it really speaks to what he’s trying to do at Pitt in terms of culture,” Zoo Crew general manager Aron Minkoff said. “He’s hyper-aware of the situation of he’s stepping into and he’s aware of the success that Pitt has had compared to the recent times that have been a little bit lean.”
The Zoo Crew is the No. 7 seed in the Midwest Region. Saturday’s game will be broadcast on ESPN 3. If they win, they’ll play in the second round Sunday at noon on ESPN and ESPN 3. The round of 16 will be played the following weekend in Atlanta, with the finals and semifinals in Baltimore, Maryland Aug. 2 and 3.
The Zoo Crew:
PF Tyrell Biggs
Then: Averaged 6.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game in 36 starts as a senior at Pitt in 2008-09. Now: Averaged 7.1 points and 3.3 rebounds per game for AEK Larnaca FC in Cyprus. Was on the team, but did not play for Zoo Crew in 2017.
SF Gilbert Brown
Then: Shot 41.3 percent from 3-point range and averaged 11.3 points per game as a senior at Pitt in 2010-11. Now: In his first season with Zoo Crew.
SG Jermaine Dixon
Then: Averaged 10.6 points per game as a senior at Pitt in 2009-10 after transferring from Tallahassee C.C. Now: In his first season with Zoo Crew.
PG Levance Fields
Then: Finished with 1,247 career points and started 100 games for Pitt from 2005 to 2010. Now: Led Zoo Crew with 35 points in 2017.
SG Antonio Graves
Then: Shot 40.2 percent from 3-point range and averaged 9.2 points per game as a senior in 2006-07. Now: Averaged 19.33 points per game for Ormanspor Genc Ankara in Turkey in 2017-18. Had 4.3 points per game for The Untouchables in the 2017 TBT.
C Gary McGhee
Then: Averaged 7.7 rebounds and 6.9 points per game as a senior at Pitt in 2010-11. Now: Averaged 10.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game for GS Kymis in Greece in 2017-18.
The Zoo Crew also features Houston alum Marcus Cousin, former UMass guard Ricky Harris and Temple grad Jesse Morgan. They are coached by Allderdice High School’s Buddy Valinsky.