In July 2014, a basketball team going by the name North Broad Street Bullies nearly reached the semifinals of a basketball tournament called, fittingly, The Basketball Tournament. The team was comprised of a few alumni of the Temple University men’s basketball team.
The grand prize of the whole tournament was $500,000, which was to be split amongst the play-ers and coaches of the team.
The team was coached in part by former Drexel University basketball player Jake Lerner, who graduated in 2014. Lerner never made a big impact on the floor during his four-year career; he scored his only two career points late in an 18-point home win during his senior season. But he knows the game itself.
This year, Lerner plans on coaching the Blue and Gold Club, a collection of former Drexel players spanning the better part of the last decade.
And the prize money? Doubled. This year’s teams will be competing for $1 million.
Among the players already committed to play are guard Frantz Massenat, class of 2014; guard Chris Fouch, class of 2014; forward Dartaye Ruffin, class of 2014; forward Samme Givens, class of 2012; and Scott Rodgers, class of 2009. Shannon Givens, a graduate of West Chester Univer-sity, is also signed up as a point guard for the team.
In mid-winter, Rob Falcone, the team’s general manager and a fellow Drexel alumnus, contacted Lerner and said he was trying to get a team together for this year’s iteration of The Tournament.
“Rob contacted me and said they were starting a team,” Lerner explained. “He said they wanted me to coach, wanted me to get the guys together. It fell in my lap. I didn’t have to do any of the duties of creating this team, getting spots or doing all the things that he’s doing. I have the liberty to just coach.”
Which, for Lerner, is ideal. He works for Fora Financial in New York City right now and has since the week after his graduation. But he said he wants to get into coaching basketball at some point in the future, whether it’s at the collegiate level, high school level or an Amateur Athletic Union team.
Meanwhile, Falcone handles the marketing of the team. After a couple of months of constant campaigning on social media, the Blue and Gold Club is ranked No. 16 in its region of The Tournament with 297 fans, as of May 14. The team became officially eligible for the tournament after eclipsing 100 fans.
A Drexel graduate who now works in marketing in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, Falcone was the president of the DAC Pack during his time at Drexel, where he picked up a glimmer of the marketing magic he works every day.
In early 2015, Falcone said he came up with the idea of possibly getting some semblance of a team together for The Tournament.
“These guys are young, in shape, playing, and they’re all relatively local, which means getting guys out to the first game shouldn’t be hard,” Falcone explained. He said he’s confident the team can make noise in the tournament.
As far as coaching was concerned, Lerner was the ideal choice for Falcone. A childhood friend of Samme Givens, and a good friend of Fouch after living together during their senior seasons, Lerner has close connections to each of the players on the team.
And he believes he can get the team to play championship-worthy basketball.
“I think one of the big things about this tournament is just seeing all the best former Drexel guys, and kind of watching them in a more pro-style offense,” Lerner said. “I’m well aware of the hatred towards Drexel’s slow offense. […] ‘Mid-range jump shots, 50 points a game, why can’t we score.’
“So I think, honestly, these guys are really talented. You see guys like [Massenat] — I think [Massenat] could actually play in the NBA, to be honest. I think seeing those guys in a pick-and-roll, open offense, up-tempo with a little Drexel swagger on the defensive end, I think that’s what people want to see.”
The Tournament will pose plenty of competition for the Blue and Gold Club this year. After a successful first run, the prize money isn’t the only thing that’s seen an increase. This year’s August 2 championship game will be broadcast on ESPN, and the quality of the teams vying for the spotlight and the seven-digit reward reflects the increased stakes.
The team with the most votes as of May 14 was a collection of former Syracuse University bas-ketball players, including Eric Devendorf and Philadelphia native Rick Jackson, who played in the NBA D-League for a season.
Teams like the Syracuse alumni certainly have a higher basketball pedigree than the Blue and Gold Club’s members. It will likely be an uphill battle for the team to find footing among such a crowded, competitive field.
On the other hand, the last time Drexel defeated Syracuse in men’s basketball Scott Rodgers and Eric Devendorf were both on the rosters.
One thing’s for certain, Lerner said. If the Blue and Gold Club manages to take home the cham-pionship and the million, the Dragons know where they’ll be celebrating.
Cavanaugh’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, a late-night favorite of Drexel students located on 39th Street, was a post-game ritual for Lerner and his best friends. The restaurant and bar has a picture of Lerner hanging on one of its walls from his final home game in 2014.
“You can guarantee that we’ll have, coming out of my winnings, personally, a $10,000 bar tab at Cavanaugh’s,” Lerner said, laughing. “If we win, that’ll be the celebration spot.”