Team Challenge ALS plays on for a cause in The Basketball Tournament
The squad formed to raise money and awareness for the disease advances to Thursday’s final
BALTIMORE – They rushed the court following the 88-83 double-overtime thriller in the opening game of The Basketball Tournament’s final four, and then they rushed the wall.
One by one the players from Team Challenge ALS gathered at the bracket board that covered the west wall of the Coppin State Physical Education Complex Tuesday night. Once enough players arrived to establish a quorum, Austin Daye made it official.
Leaping high, Daye stuck the Challenge ALS name on the bracket, announcing the team’s arrival at Thursday’s championship game of the $2 million winner-take-all tournament after a win over the Scarlet & Gray, a team representing former players from Ohio State. Challenge ALS will face Team Overseas Elite, a collection of overseas players who have won the last two tournament titles.
For Daye, a former first-round pick of the Detroit Pistons in the 2009 NBA draft, playing in the tournament wasn’t on his radar when the tournament began its fourth year on July 8. Daye was coming off a knee injury after his recently completed season in Turkey, which led him to turn down an offer to play for the tournament team representing his alma mater, Gonzaga.
But as Challenge ALS approached the Sweet 16 of the tournament in Brooklyn, New York, just over a week ago with a roster riddled with injuries, Daye received a call. That call came just days after he was cleared to play, and he accepted the offer to play with the collection of Southern California players who were hoping to raise money and awareness for the progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord.
“I’m glad to play with such an unselfish team and we’re playing for a great cause,” Daye said. “For a group that has never played together, we play basketball the right way.”
Daye’s mid-tournament transition with Challenge ALS has been smooth. Against a Scarlet & Gray team featuring former NBA first-round pick Jared Sullinger (26 points, 10 rebounds), Daye hit half of his 12 shots while scoring 22 points before fouling out in the second overtime.
He’s played his three games in the tournament with a tremendous amount of confidence, something he was lacking toward the end of journeyman NBA career that saw him play for five teams in four years. Daye had backed up Pistons small forward Tayshaun Prince in his first two seasons, and Daye said he was led to believe in his third season that Detroit would make a move that would allow him to be a starter.
“I had lunch with Joe Dumars and was told I was going to get my shot and they would move Tayshaun,” Daye said. “But then the lockout happened, and when it ended [new coach] Lawrence Frank decided he wanted Tayshaun back. He signed a four-year deal, [$27 million] and I was stuck backing him up again.”
Prince signed that contract in December 2011. Midway through the next season both Prince and Daye were traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. That sent Daye’s NBA career into a downward spiral as he made just five more starts during stints in Memphis (31 games), Toronto (eight games), San Antonio (40 games) and Atlanta (eight games). The Hawks waived him following the 2014-15 season.
“You get to a point where you lose your confidence because you’re not getting a chance,” Daye said. “Had I been given an opportunity to start and play with a clear mind, I really think I would have been able to play well in the NBA.”
Daye, who earned $10 million over the course of his NBA career, has played the last two seasons in Bahrain and Turkey. At 29, the 6-11 small forward is hoping to play in China next season or get a shot to return to the NBA.
“I have a tremendous amount of confidence in my game now, and that comes with playing a lot these past two years,” Daye said. “I see this tournament as a chance to give me some exposure. I’d like to get back to the NBA, but I’m not looking for a one-year deal. I’d like to have something long-term.”
If Challenge ALS pulls off the title, Daye would earn $93,000, which isn’t bad for two weeks’ work. For the semifinals, each of the players wore a jersey with the name Frates on the back. Pete Frates, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2012, played baseball at Boston College and was the roommate of Sean Marshall, who was the captain of the Boston College basketball team. Frates is credited with being a co-founder of the ice bucket challenge.
In advancing to the tournament championship game, Challenge ALS is able to further illuminate a worthy cause.
“The ALS connection intrigued players to come to this team,” Marshall said. “We’ve come together and we’re playing for something that’s even bigger than sports. The people we play for inspire us.”
As well as the winner-take-all payout.
“In our last timeout, we were up three and I said, ‘This is a $2 million stop’ right here,’ ” Daye said. “This is not only for ourselves, but for other people as well who are impacted by ALS.”