Big 5 alumni team up for The Basketball Tournament

College basketball alumni who previously played for Philadelphia’s “Big 5” programs joined forces to compete in this year’s “The Basketball Tournament.”

Former Temple center Damion Moore and members of The Basketball Tournament’s Big 5 alumni team warming up in the first round of the 2022 TBT at Rucker Park in Harlem, New York City on July 16, 2022. | Sam Cohn / Philadelphia Inquirer

As rain poured down, Philadelphia’s own Big 5 college alumni took the floor at Rucker Park in a first-round regional matchup in The Basketball Tournament on July 16. The televised affair, TBT’s first-ever outdoor game, turned into a private competitive matchup after a rain delay forced a relocation to Gauchos Gym in the Bronx.

Big 5 defeated Ex-Pats, a team of former Patriot League players, 74-67 after the near five-hour rain delay and advanced to the next round in their first year in the tournament. 

However, the team was eliminated from the tournament after losing 83-67 in the second round to regional champions Americana for Autism, a team dedicated to raising awareness and money for children with autism. Although they lost, the team showcased Philadelphia basketball to the entire country, one of the initial goals of the team.

The Basketball Tournament is an annual open-application, single-elimination basketball tournament with teams consisting of former college players, overseas professionals and as of this year, future NBA Draft prospects. With the competition featuring a $1 million prize and televised rights to ESPN, three former Temple players made it onto one of the biggest stages of their careers playing for Big 5. 

The Big 5 is a group of five major basketball programs in the Philadelphia area, including Temple, La Salle, Penn, St. Joe’s and Villanova. The five programs have played each other every year since 1955, with the exception of the 2021 and 2022 seasons due the COVID-19 pandemic. The schools have combined for 13 Final Four appearances and four national championships. 

The Big 5 alumni team’s story began with Rob Hollomon, a former high school football and basketball player at Philadelphia’s West Catholic High School before playing football for Kent State University. After the tournament shrank from 64 teams to 24 in 2020 due to the pandemic, and his La Salle alumni team fell apart in 2021, Hollomon began making phone calls to assemble the squad, the first of which went to former Temple guard Khalif Wyatt.

“[Hollomon] reached out to me to be a player at first,” Wyatt said. “I told him I was retiring and getting into coaching, so he asked me to coach the team.” 

Wyatt has played basketball professionally overseas since going undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft, becoming a two-time All-Star and two-time First Team All-League player in the Israeli Basketball Premier League before retiring in March after the birth of his daughter.

Wyatt immediately began building TBT’s roster after getting the head coaching job, which came with some general manager duties, by calling former All-Atlantic 10 La Salle point guard Ramon Galloway and two-time American Athletic Conference Sixth Man of the Year Markus Kennedy.

Kennedy spent one season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the NBA G-League before playing three years with five different professional overseas clubs. Injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic have kept Kennedy sidelined since 2020, something Wyatt wants to change.

“It’s tied between [Galloway] and [Kennedy] for the best player on the team,” Wyatt said. “My goal is to get [Kennedy] a contract out of this. He’s healthy again and can show that he’s a really good basketball player.”

Former La Salle guard Jordan Price and forward Jerrell Wright joined Kennedy and Galloway on the roster. Temple guards and teammates of Wyatt, Dalton Pepper and Quenton DeCosey, were added with former Temple center Damion Moore. Saint Joseph’s was represented by guards C.J. Aiken and Ryan Daly while Penn guard Devon Goodman rounded out the roster. 

With three weeks to prepare for competition, Big 5 held a one-week training camp before heading to the historic Rucker Park for regional play in The Basketball Tournament. 

“I told the guys, ‘You’re playing for opportunity,’” Wyatt said. “This is an opportunity for everybody to showcase their games and get jobs.”

For people like Dunphy that are familiar with the Philadelphia basketball scene, seeing the team that Hollomon and Wyatt assembled created a sense of nostalgia.

“It’s fun to see the names and recognize the faces on the team,” Dunphy said. “It’s fun to go back in time a little bit.”

Dunphy, who has become known as “Mr. Big 5” in the area, coached the Owls between 2006 and 2019 after John Cheney retired. He coached Wyatt, Pepper and DeCosey at Temple between 2009 and 2016 and led the Owls against Aiken, Goodman, Price, Wright, Galloway and Kennedy. 

One player in particular that Dunphy was excited to see was DeCosey, who was a First-Team All-Conference player for Dunphy in 2016. 

Dunphy’s favorite DeCosey moment came in the guard’s last Temple game. In a first round loss to Iowa in the 2016 NCAA Tournament, he scored 26 points, including three free throws to send the game to overtime. DeCosey channeled a similar performance during the first round of TBT when he made the layup that led Big 5 to its victory against Ex-Pats.

“To see all the Big 5 schools represented by us, it was a great thing to see,” Moore said. “It just shows you how much success really comes out of Philly and Big 5 schools.”

With Big 5 now eliminated from TBT, the team will return to their professional careers for the time being. However, this isn’t goodbye for the team as they plan to make Big 5 a yearly TBT contender. 

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