First-round TBT game to pit former Lobos vs. former Aggies

Kenny Thoms, left, and J.R. Giddens laugh when discussing the upcoming TBT event during a Wednesday press conference at the Pit. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

J.R. Giddens says there haven’t been many days in the past year that have gone by when he hasn’t been asked about or thought about that day last summer in Wichita, Kansas.

Up 23 points in the third quarter on the Stillwater Stars, Giddens and the UNM Lobo alumni squad The Enchantment saw their lead – and any chance at winning the $1 million winner-take-all top prize in the annual The Basketball Tournament – slip away.

“The way that the game ended last year, you know, it left a bad taste in my mouth,” Giddens said on Wednesday. “Everywhere I’ve been since that (game), they asked me what happened.”

The Stillwater Stars, an alumni team of former Oklahoma State Cowboys, outscored the star-studded Lobo alumni roster 35-11 down the stretch for a 84-83 win and a painful bus ride back to Albuquerque for The Enchantment.

One and done. Wait till next year.

Well, next year is here. And TBT is not only back for The Enchantment, but the stakes are raised.

The Pit is one of eight regional sites for the 64-team, single-elimination summer event that will have every game broadcast or streamed online on the ESPN family of networks. Eight teams were announced Wednesday as the participants in the July 18-21 in the New Mexico Regional – highlighted by an opening-night rivalry renewed between the Lobos and Aggies – The Enchantment, a 12-man roster including 11 former UNM stars of the past 15 seasons, vs. The Panamaniacs, the newly formed 13-man roster with 11 players who at one time or another over the past 15 years played at NMSU.

The winners of the eight-team New Mexico Regional advance to an eight-team final round in Dayton, Ohio, later in July with the $1 million prize awaiting the winner.

“I bleed Cherry and Silver, so I’m happy to go out there in the Pit and represent the state of New Mexico and especially vs. the Aggies,” said the 37-year-old Giddens, the former Lobo star and NBA first-round draft pick. He scored a team-high 17 in last year’s loss. “… It’s a great opportunity for New Mexico basketball. And this is a basketball state. Everybody knows that. So I think you guys are gonna get a good show.”

Kenny Thomas, The Enchantment head coach, was a little more bold about erasing the memory of last year’s loss and making a prediction about this year’s opening-round game.

“We’re going to win the first game anyway, so it don’t matter,” Thomas said with a huge grin Wednesday in the Pit as the eight-team New Mexico Regional bracket was revealed.

Michael Nanez, the former Aggie who will be one of five coaches helping the NMSU squad next month, said the Panamaniacs are happy to be in TBT this year. That the opener will be against the Lobos – and maybe even the final game of his friend Giddens – makes it even more special.

Said Nanez: “(If it’s) J.R.’s last year, what better way to send them off than with them losing to the Panamaniacs?”

TBT boasted this year’s event has 71 former NBA players and 29 alumni-based teams, including four in the New Mexico Regional – Ram Up (a Colorado State alumni team) and Once a Bronco (a Boise State alumni team) being the other two.

All-session passes good for every game at the Pit start at $45. Single-session tickets, which are good for two specific games on the first two days or the July 21 regional final, start at $14.

GAME/TEAM CAPSULES: For brief capsules of each Day 1 matchup in the Pit, the schedule of games and full Enchantment and Panamaniacs rosters, CLICK HERE.

DUAL ALLEGIANCES: Brandon Mason, the former NMSU Aggie player and UNM Lobo assistant, among numerous other basketball playing and coaching gigs around New Mexico over the past two decades, is the general manager of both The Enchantment and The Panamaniacs, spearheading both getting accepted into TBT and filling their rosters with players. It is similar to how he did the same for Lobo/Aggie alumni all-star games in recent years in the Pit.

So where will he be on July 18?

Apparently he’ll be in the Enchantment locker room before the game, the Panamaniacs’ locker room at halftime and, likely, the winning locker room after the game.

BEST OF THE MOUNTAIN WEST: Four former Mountain West Players of the Year will be represented in the New Mexico Regional: Lobos Darington Hobson (2010) and J.R. Giddens (2008) as well as former Boise State Bronco Derrick Marks (2015) former Fresno State Bulldog Marvelle Harris (2016).

Marks, playing for the Boise State alumni team Once a Bronco, scored 31 points and was 10-of-11 from the free throw line in his last game in the Pit on Jan. 18, 2015. Harris, playing for Challenge ALS, scored 32 points and had 10 assists in his last game in the Pit on Feb. 27, 2016.

TEAM AARP: Giddens, 37, has NMSU’s Justin Hawkins, 37, by one month.

Asked Wednesday about his age, Giddens said he could still be playing professionally if he wanted to.

“Age is really a state of mind,” said Giddens, still admittedly obsessive about working out. “… Some people’s careers end because of their bodies. Mine ended because I wanted to start my second career in coaching, which I’m very serious about.”

NOT JUST PLAYERS: Aside from the numerous players making returns to the Pit, the New Mexico regional’s No. 1 seed Heartfire is coached by Laphonso Ellis, the former Notre Dame and NBA star, played in the Pit in 1988 as a member of the West roster in the McDonald’s High School All-American game.

OTHER LOBOS: At least five former Lobos will be in TBT playing for other teams.

Point guard Antino Jackson, who played for Enchantment last summer, will play this time for Team Overtime, a roster put together by the same people behind the new professional league Overtime Elite, aimed at giving high school-aged players a chance to play for money before they are NBA Draft eligible. Included on that roster are twin brothers Ausar and Amen Thompson, both projected to be top 10 picks in multiple 2023 mock NBA Drafts.

Other former Lobos playing elsewhere include: Troy Simons, Ohio 1804 (a team comprised mostly of Ohio University alumni); Zane Martin, NG Saints (alumni of Philadelphia’s prestigious Neumann Goretti High School); Nick Banyard, Sweet Home Alabama (a team comprised mostly of Alabama-born players, though Banyard is from Texas); and Corey Manigault, Stillwater Stars (the Oklahoma State alumni team that beat Enchantment in last year’s TBT).

VIDEO: Here is video of Thomas and Giddens talking at Wednesday’s TBT bracket reveal in the Pit.

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