Jeremy Crouch (‘08) remembers the Bradley Braves’ Cinderella run to the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 back in 2006.
Now, 10 years later, he and a team of Bradley alumni are getting another shot at playing on a national stage in 2016’s The Basketball Tournament (TBT), ESPN’s biggest summer hoops tournament.
“The chemistry [of the team] is almost like we just walked off the floor in 2006,” the six-foot-five shooting guard said. “We all kind of fell back into similar roles and we were able to gel.”
But it’s not just the action on the court – the dizzying stamina, staggering three-pointers and shot at a split $2 million prize – that’s kept Crouch and the aptly named Always a Brave team going.
“For me, the best part’s just being able to reconnect with past teammates, being able to spend time with them,” Crouch said. “We’re eating together, we’re practicing together, we’re spending time late at night together.”
No. 9-seed Always a Brave features six members from Bradley’s 2006 NCAA Tournament team, as well as three players from the last 12 years of Bradley basketball. Some are coaching or playing professionally overseas, while others have careers and families in the Peoria area.
The 9-player Always a Brave team defeated Pedro’s Posse – a team comprised multiple NBA players like Jason Williams and Mike Bibby as well as alumni from the Florida Basketball Association – in round three of the tournament.
Last Saturday, Always a Brave took down the Marquette University Golden Eagles alumni team – a team boasting more former NBA players – to advance to the Final Four of TBT.
“It’s been unbelievable, honestly,” Crouch, who has the summer off from teaching economics and coaching basketball at Pekin High School, said.
Bobby Parker, Bradley Associate Athletic Director for Communications and general manager of Always a Brave, said he got the idea for organizing a Bradley alumni team after following TBT last year. Then, he made some calls and got together with coaches Chuck Buescher, A.J. Guyton and the team as they began practicing at the beginning of July.
“The thrill is what I was really hoping for, and just getting the guys together, and I wanted them to just have some fun together,” Parker said. “I’ve been [at Bradley] 18 years now, so I was here when they all played.”
Daniel Ruffin, five-foot-ten point guard, played on the 2006 NCAA Tournament team with Crouch. Getting back on the court with so many old teammates was just like clockwork, he said.
“[We play on the court] pretty much like it was 10 years ago,” Ruffin (‘08) said. “I know some people haven’t been able to play regularly since [college], but back on the court it’s like we went back to our regular roles.”
In its matchup against the Golden Eagles, Ruffin said Always a Brave let the score slip for a while near the end of the game. But winning the tournament was never his top priority.
“At that point, it seemed like our tourney run was over with, but we had a couple great guys make some big shots and get the ball back,” the Peoria High School basketball coach and Boys and Girls Club sports director said. “But for me personally, [TBT is] just a great opportunity. I haven’t played in about three and a half years on this level, so just to get back out on the floor and being able to just compete at this level, it’s just a great feeling.”
And Crouch has a simple plan to keep that magic winning streak going.
“Our strength is our chemistry, and our belief in one another, our knowledge of one another,” he said. “We get to know each other so well, we all know our strengths and weaknesses. We’ve played so much together that we understand how we can help our guys out on the court, and I think that’s just going to help us going forward.”
Bradley will play No. 5-seed Team Colorado at 4 p.m. today in Philadelphia, for the first game of the Final Four, which will be broadcast on ESPN. The winner will play in the championship game at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 2, in New York City.