Nelly Cummings and Greg Elliott are running it back.
Part of the 2022-23 Panthers that revitalized the Pitt basketball program and won two games in the NCAA Tournament, Cummings and Elliott will reunite with Nike Sibande and join a group of Pitt legends at this year’s The Basketball Tournament (TBT).
TBT is a single-elimination tournament containing 64 teams – similar to the NCAA Tournament fighting for a significant grand prize.
“We’re playing for $1 million dollars,” Cummings said. “It’s not too much different than a regular game but you know that there’s $1 million dollars, so if it’s a loose ball, you better dive for it.”
The summer tourney features alumni from numerous high-profile programs that return to their collegiate programs with fellow graduates. Pitt legends will take center stage in West Virginia beginning Tuesday, including Sam Young, Gary McGhee, Talib Zanna, Gilbert Brown, Levance Fields, Jamel Artist, and others.
“With the collection of guys we got here, everybody’s hungry, everybody wants that, so I think we have a good chance,” Cummings said. “I think we’re going to be a really, really tough team… We’re a collection of guys who played at the University of Pittsburgh. If anything, you know you’re going to get a tough group from us and give us the best fight.”
Jaron Brown and DeJuan Blair will coach the “Zoo Crew.” Cummings convinced Elliott to play after constantly communicating with him about the TBT.
“After a while, I saw how serious they were about wanting me to play,” Elliott said. “You really can’t turn down the chance at winning $1 million. It was a no-brainer.”
Nelly Cummings guarding Greg Elliott during TBT practice pic.twitter.com/OcddZcnLQZ
— Austin Bechtold (@AustinRBechtold) July 20, 2023
Elliott had a workout with the Detroit Pistons earlier this year. The Detroit native is keeping his cardio up in hopes of continuing his career.
“It was great,” Elliott said. “Getting to work out for my hometown team, a team I grew up watching and wanting to root for, it was a great feeling.”
Older players have recognized plays fresher in the minds of younger guys that have been slightly tweaked and are utilizing similar concepts for games. Having the chance to play with legendary Pitt performers of the past is something not taken lightly by Cummings.
“It’s a full circle moment for me. I remember being a young kid watching these guys,” Cummings said. “Hopping in some drills to now playing on the same team.”
Despite only playing one year with the Panthers, his impact on the program is significantly felt after guiding the team to a prominent spot in the ACC last season. To take the court with the likes of Young, Fields, Zanna, and others is a testament to his overall development and career.
“It goes to show the hard work that I put in,” Elliott said. “To know that I had a chance to be alongside some of these greats and they welcomed me with open arms… they’ve been super encouraging to play hard… be a young guy.”
As the Zoo Crew practiced on the Petersen Events Center floor, the men’s basketball NCAA Tournament banner had a noticeable change to it. 2023 is now documented in the rafters and will live on forever with a new legacy of Panthers basketball.
“It feels good,” Cummings said. “I remember having this question a lot when I was still playing about the things we were doing at the time. Now that I’m an alumni and can sit back and watch these guys practice and do this, I can finally say I think we left the program in good hands.”
“It put a big smile on my face,” Elliott said. “At the end of the day, I can say that I was a part of that in 2023. That’s a big-time feeling and something my family can come back and see.”
Cummings signed a deal with AEL Limassol BC in Cyprus to continue his career overseas this week. The Beaver County native has come a long way in his journey.
“I don’t know much yet. I know where I’m going is a really nice island, a nice location with a lot of nice people… I can’t wait to see how it is when I actually get there,” Cummings said.
He will depart for the new opportunity that contains around 30 games, similar to a college season, in late August or early September.
“Today, it kind of hit me because of so many people talking about it on social media,” Cummings said. “Before today, it hadn’t hit me at all. Today I got a little sentimental like ‘I am going to have to leave here soon,’ so there’s a whole bunch of different emotions, and excited is at the top of that list.”
Elliott has communicated with Cummings, Jamarius Burton, Sibande, and others from Pitt who are experiencing the same thing as him and looking to find the next step in their careers and lives.
“We talk a lot, especially knowing we’re all in the same boat,” Elliott said. “We’re all trying to figure out our first year as a professional. It’s good to have somebody in the same boat as you, especially a guy that you just played with.”
Eliott said he tries to pick the brain of older players, especially those who have played in different counties. He is currently exploring options to play overseas and is in the negotiation process with options at his disposal.
“I don’t know where I’m going yet, but it’s coming soon,” Elliott said.
Elliott is thrilled to have the chance to run it back with Cummings and Sibande another time on the court in meaningful games.
“We thought our last game against Xavier was the last time we would ever play together,” Elliott said. “When we got the opportunity and found out we both were going to play, we were super excited.”
There could be six games to come, including a matchup against “Best Virginia” in the second round in store.
“I thought it was over,” Elliott said. “Especially playing with Nelly. Him being my point guard this last year. Definitely didn’t think I would catch another pass from him. To know I get another pass from him, I probably get another chance to throw another lob to Nike is a great feeling. I might throw one to Nelly too. You never know.”