Photo courtesy of Hilltop Dawgs

For the first time in three years, the final two rounds of The Basketball Tournament won’t be held in Baltimore City. But a team of alumni from the now-famous University of Maryland, Baltimore County men’s basketball program will be making a comeback.

The Hilltop Dawgs, a team of mostly Retrievers basketball alums that played in last year’s 2018 summertime tourney, were selected Tuesday as one of 64 teams for the upcoming ESPN-televised, cash-prize competition. Each game is single-elimination. The tournament runs from July 25 through Aug. 6.

The 2019 Hilltop Dawgs include a handful of players from the team behind the historic 2018 NCAA Tournament upset of the University of Virginia, with point guards Jourdan Grant and KJ Maura, small forward Joe Sherburne and center Sam Schweitz.

Other UMBC alumni include Ray Barbosa, who led the Retrievers in scoring while guiding them to their only other ever March Madness appearance in 2008; former standout forward and 2017 graduate Will Darley; and former team captain Chase Plummer, who graduated in 2014.

Rounding out the team are several international pros who played for other schools—Jalen Cannon (St. Francis College, ’15), Derek Hall (Albright College, ’12) and Terrence Roderick (University of Alabama-Birmingham, ’09)—and UMBC alums Jeffrey Kee as general manager and Brian Hodges as assistant coach. Barbosa will be pulling double duty as head coach, Bill Russell-style.

The team will start its hopeful run in the Richmond regional round on July 26. Eight teams that win their respective regions will head to Chicago for the final rounds of the tourney.

Photo via The Basketball Tournament

The Hilltop Dawgs certainly have their work cut out for them, with a first-round matchup against four-time consecutive champs and no. 1 seed Overseas Elite. But for about half of the team, such odds haven’t stopped them from an upset win in the past.

Sherburne told Baltimore Fishbowl that “from our time last year,” when UMBC blew out UVA, “we’re all still good friends and keep in touch, so that should help with spreading the ball and getting people to the right spots.”

That experience playing together on the court will be key, particularly against bigger and more experienced teams, he said. The Wisconsin native also noted having a mix of players from the last 10 years or so, including some pros, will help.

“It’s always good to have older, experienced guys who have played against professional players. I think we should have a good mix of young players who have a lot of energy and maybe some older guys who can show us the ropes, and know where to be and what to do in the right situations.”

Sherburne, named an Academic All-American for the second consecutive year this spring before he graduated, said it’s a “different kind of adrenaline or motivation than a regular season game” competing on such a stage. In April, he was picked to play in a national three-on-three tournament representing the America East Conference.

If the team is down, “there’s no, well, we’ll get ‘em next time. You’ve already lost out on the prize.”

After getting in some practices this month and next, the Hilltop Dawgs will play their first summertime game at Richmond’s Siegel Center on July 26. Tip-off is at 4:50 p.m. The game will be streamed by ESPN.

Hollins Market apparel store City of Gods is throwing the team a pep rally on July 7.

Sherburne and the others are welcoming any support from fans of the now-internationally known basketball program. “It’s good that fans of UMBC who would also follow us in the [NCAA] tournament would still have some stake in the game and something to root for,” he said.

Confidently, he offered up an incentive for those who do tune in: “If you watch and prove that you watch, there is a small possibility that I would give you some of my winnings.”

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...