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OSU basketball: Stillwater Stars ready for bubble showcase in The Basketball Tournament

Le'Bryan Nash, pictured in 2015, helped organize the Stillwater Stars, an alumni team in The Basketball Tournament. [The Oklahoman Archives]
Le'Bryan Nash, pictured in 2015, helped organize the Stillwater Stars, an alumni team in The Basketball Tournament. [The Oklahoman Archives]

Le’Bryan Nash watched The Basketball Tournament from afar the past few years and always believed Oklahoma State should have a team.

He remembered when he roamed the court inside Gallagher-Iba Arena alongside Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. The Cowboys had talent. They had talent before and after, too.

The Basketball Tournament would be the perfect showcase.

Now, the circumstances are quite different with the COVID-19 pandemic, but a group of former Cowboys and a few others get a chance to prove that inside the bubble of The Basketball Tournament.

“We had a team, too,” Nash said. “We was a good team. Most of these guys want to prove that we’re still here, we still want to make a name for ourselves and it’s a big stage to pull it off.”

It’s currently the only stage.

The 21st-seeded Stillwater Stars open the tournament at 4 p.m. Saturday on ESPN in Columbus, Ohio, against 12th-seeded Brotherly Love.

There will be no fans. There will be no media. Just basketball.

The Basketball Tournament — which features a $1 million prize for the winning team — is the only live basketball happening during the pandemic, with quarantined players and coaches.

“I think it’s not going to be that much different,” former OSU sharpshooter Thomas Dziagwa said. “When we practice, you don’t practice in front of fans. When you have scrimmages with intrasquad stuff in college, you don’t really practice or scrimmage in front of fans.

“So, at the end of the day, it’s just basketball and only 10 guys are allowed on the court. I don’t think it’s rocket science.”

The Stars are coached by former OSU guard and current ESPN analyst Bryndon Manzer. The team featured a plethora of former Cowboys stars, but due to the coronavirus the roster took a drastic change at the last minute.

Multiple unnamed players tested positive and others pulled out, leaving just seven players on the team. Only three are from OSU — Nash, Dziagwa and Brian Williams. Former Kansas stars Tyshawn Taylor and Naadir Tharpe are joined by Houston’s Armoni Brooks and James Banks III, who played at Texas and Georgia Tech.

They’ve all bonded since reporting early in the week to the quarantine bubble of the tournament.

“It’s interesting to say the least,” Williams said. “It’s laying in the room playing a game or watching movies and practicing when we can. It’s not a lot going on.

“It’s a lot of COVID testing.”

Even with the oddness of no fans and the looming questions of a pandemic, the Stars are hoping to make the most of the situation.

A lot of money is on the line. And perhaps a scout will take notice.

“I think it'll feel a lot like real basketball,” Manzer said. “Everybody that's here, including our team, is here because they love to play. And most, if not all, these guys are playing professionally. So, it'll be interesting in terms of not normal circumstances.

“But I think it's going to be great basketball, still be intense. And everybody wants to go win.”


The Basketball Tournament

No. 21 Stillwater Stars vs. No. 12 Brotherly Love

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio

TV: ESPN (Cox 29/HD 720, Dish 140, DirecTV 206, U-verse 602/HD 1602)


Coach: Bryndon Manzer (OSU); Players: James Banks III (Texas/Georgia Tech); Armoni Brooks (Houston); Thomas Dziagwa (OSU); Le’Bryan Nash (OSU); Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas); Naadir Tharpe (Kansas); Brian Williams (OSU)

Jacob Unruh

Jacob Unruh is a graduate of Northeastern State University. He was born in Cherokee and raised near Vera where he attended Caney Valley High School.During his tenure at NSU, Unruh wrote for The Northeastern (NSU's student newspaper), the... Read more ›