JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – It was a Monday night in July, but Gordon Ball Court was alive with the sounds of bouncing basketball and squeaking sneakers.
The Bucketneers, an ETSU alumni basketball team, has returned for a second-straight season to compete in The Basketball Tournament. But before they take to the court for their First Round matchup, they’re taking the time to get right in Johnson City.
“I love to be back here in Gordon Ball,” Bucketneers head coach and 2020 ETSU graduate Joe Hugley said. “It’s always great to be back when you have a banner sitting right there,” he said motioning to the 2019-2020 SoCon Championship banner on the wall.
“I always have Johnson City in my heart, just like these other guys,” 2009 Bucs graduate Courtney Pigram said. “TBT is fun – us being together, being able to play the sport we love and do it for our fanbase.”
There are a handful of new guys in the fold for this summer, but mostly it is a core group of players returning from an impressive run last summer.
The 12-seed Bucketneers scored upsets over War Ready and Armored Athlete before falling just short to top-seeded Sideline Cancer.
The team could be content with the 2021 run and be looking to build on it this summer.
But, they’re not.
This team is fueled by the feeling of that Elam-Ending, Round of 16 loss in Charleston almost a year ago.
“I think it was a learning experience,” Pigram said. “You know, it left a bad taste in our mouth – eager to get out there and prove everybody wrong.”
“These guys still remember that – they came in here today and practiced like they remembered that,” Hugley said. “That was really encouraging.”
“We’ve just got to clean up some of the small things – some turnovers, some more defensive principles that we gotta get to,” he continued. “We’ve got a couple of new guys, but I feel like they know what’s at stake every time they come in here.”
Fans will have a chance to catch the Bucketneers at Brooks Gymnasium on Friday at 6 p.m. before they travel to Charleston, West Virginia for the early rounds of the tournament.
The team will open play against Team Fully Loaded on Sunday, July 24 at 12 p.m.