Bringing down the ’bus
Former Harding teammates competing in $2M tournament
One of the biggest organized basketball tournaments in the nation is about to get a whole lot of Warren G. Harding flavor added to it.
Former Raiders Jesse Hardin and Shaheed Davis will be both be taking part in The Basketball Tournament, a 5-on-5, single-elimination tournament with a $2 million grand prize. The event begins Saturday in Columbus and will be televised live on ESPN.
Ironically, both Hardin and Davis graduated in 2012, but they will be competing on separate teams. Hardin, who starred at Walsh University, is joined by several other former NCAA Division II stars on a team known as “D2,” while Davis, who played at Central Florida, is with “War Tampa,” a group made up mostly of players from Auburn and Florida.
The two are longtime friends and still keep in touch, even though both are playing in different geographical locations (Hardin was in Uruguay and Davis was in Japan before the COVID-19 pandemic).
“You can’t really talk to nobody unless they’re with your team,” said Hardin of not being able to see Davis because of coronavirus-related restrictions. “We’ve been talking, texting on Instagram and FaceTime, so I’m probably going to sneak up there because he’s on the eighth floor (of the hotel) and I’m on the sixth. I was excited when I found out he was playing. Definitely looking forward to tuning in and watching him.”
The thrill of being on ESPN is as exciting as having a chance to win the grand prize for Davis.
The 6-foot-9 power, 225-pound forward has been playing overseas since 2016. He averaged 23 points, 12 rebounds and three assists last year for the Fukushima Firebonds. He has won championships in the European basketball circuit, and he was named the all-star game MVP at one time. Even that doesn’t compare to ESPN’s prime time game for Davis.
“We’re going out there to win the millions, but for me, it’s just about getting an opportunity to play again back home in front of friends and family,” Davis said. “They can watch me on TV, and I’m more excited about that than anything. I haven’t played here since college, so it’s going to be fun.
“In college (I was on TV), but not like this. This is prime time. Everybody is going to be watching because there’s no sports right now. So, there’s going to be a lot of people tuning in. This is probably going to be one of the biggest stages I’ve played on (in the United States).”
Davis’ team plays House of Pain at 8 p.m. Saturday on ESPN.
Hardin’s team starts the tournament off at 3 p.m. Saturday with a first-round matchup against Big X (former Big Ten players). The 26-year-old nearly didn’t get a chance to play in it.
The event usually has 64 teams, but this year, because of the pandemic, only 24 received entry. Earning a spot isn’t easy, and Hardin and D2 were the 25th-ranked team, meaning they were left out.
In a bittersweet moment, however, the coronavirus helped them out. A player on a team that made the tournament contracted COVID-19, and thus his team was replaced by Hardin’s.
Hardin never gave up hope, anticipating some type of pandemic-related situation that might lead to them being part of the tournament.
“Once we got that text that we were finally in, most of the players are on the same floor, and everybody came out of their room yelling,” he said. “I reached out to my family and told them the news. Everybody’s excited to tune in. Everybody was just ecstatic.”
Davis’ trip to Columbus was less dramatic.
He wasn’t sure if he was going to be involved because he was expecting to be back in Japan. A mutual friend playing in TBT contacted him about joining the War Tampa team, and when Davis, also 26, found out he would be staying in Ohio longer, he jumped at the opportunity.
He knows it’s not easy to join a group of players he doesn’t know and find an instant chemistry, but as a professional, he has seen it happen in the past.
“That’s everything,” he said. “The experience that I’ve learned being a professional translates to this, so it’s really nothing new. I’ve been in these types of situations so many times, I’m comfortable with it.”
The two could be creating their own team for next year’s event — one full of Warren G. Harding alumni.
Both brought up former Xavier Musketeer and Norfolk State standout RaShid Gaston, who also graduated in 2012, when the Raiders reached the regional final. Gaston played professionally in France in 2019. There were several other great Harding players over the last 10 to 15 years who could be added to the list (Desmar Jackson, Damian Eargle, Sheldon Brogdon, etc.).
Hardin laughed at first, but then got serious.
“Next year, maybe we can get a Harding alumni team because we got a couple pros: RaShid Gaston, Shaheed and me,” he said. “Hopefully we could base it off of that, and maybe (former Harding basketball and current football) coach (Steve) Arnold would come out of retirement and coach for us.
“If it’s not during football, or he can take a break. It’s just on the weekend, so I feel like we could get the band back together.”
Davis laughed as well, but he seems intrigued by the thought.
“That’d be dope,” he said with a laugh. “It’s definitely possible.”