The Sons of Westwood are back for the second straight year.
The majority-UCLA alumni team will be competing in The Basketball Tournament for a $2 million prize awarded to the winner of the 64-team, single elimination tournament, which was started by Jonathan Mugar in 2014. The No. 4-seeded Sons of Westwood will play in the eight-team Salt Lake City regional this week starting Thursday in order to advance to later rounds held in Chicago, Illinois.
Sons of Westwood is led and organized by general manager Grant Kitani – a Temple men’s basketball graduate assistant and former UCLA men’s basketball manager. The team’s coach is Ryan “Moose” Bailey, who was a guard for UCLA from 1998 to 2001.
Former Bruin guards Jordan Adams, Malcolm Lee and Isaac Hamilton have all returned to the squad from last year. It will welcome newcomers such as former UCLA forwards David and Travis Wear as well as guard Larry Drew II.
Kitani said it is exciting to come back together with his fellow UCLA alumni for a second run at the title.
“I saw how special it was to be a part of a basketball family like UCLA,” Kitani said. “After I graduated I often felt myself thinking about UCLA basketball again. If I felt this way, I was sure the players would feel that way.”
Though few of the players in TBT are under an NBA contract, the tournament features players with plenty of basketball experience who are used to competing at a high level.
Sons of Westwood features five former NBA players, three of which have seen action in the past three years. It also has Shizz Alston, a former Temple standout who played in the NBA Summer League with the Indiana Pacers from July 6-12.
“For the most part, these guys have all played at a very high college level,” Kitani said. “Most of them are professionals that come from all over the world. I didn’t fully understand how competitive it could be. It is really tough to win a game.”
No. 1-seeded Eberlein Drive – led by former NBA champion James Michael McAdoo – is one of the favorites to win it all. Team Challenge ALS is the No. 2 seed in the region, and it knocked the Sons of Westwood out of TBT in the round of 16 in 2018.
Its loss prevented the Sons of Westwood from collecting the winner’s $2 million dollar reward. The extra money players can win is really helpful when they aren’t on NBA contracts, Kitani said.
“The money definitely helps when you aren’t in the NBA because it’s a pretty big paycheck for the time they put in,” Kitani said. “I don’t think the money is the most important thing though. Our players love to do it for the fun and professional exposure of being on ESPN.”
In TBT, each team decides how it’s going to split its $2 million. For Sons of Westwood, each players’ win share is at least $100,000, often matching or exceeding the salary of the players.
Aside from the cash prize, TBT boasts one more trait that differs from the NBA and NCAA – the Elam Ending.
Nick Elam, a middle school principal and member of the high IQ society Mensa, decided to make an ending to a basketball game that eliminated the need for intentional fouling.
To prevent the prolonging of games by intentionally fouling, the Elam Ending stops the clock at the first dead ball with under four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Then, the number seven is added to the leading team’s score and the new total is the number of points needed for either team to win the game.
In 2017, Mugar decided to implement the Elam Ending for the tournament’s preliminary play-in games. It was such a hit that it was brought back for the entirety of the 2018 tournament and will be returning for all 2019 games as well.
“It’s certainly really exciting if you’re a spectator,” said Kitani. “But when you’re in the game, it’s really nerve-wracking. In a normal game, you can hold the ball and get fouled, but not in the Elam Ending.”
The Sons of Westwood will begin its tournament run Thursday when the team faces off against the No. 5-seeded L.A. Cheaters.