HomeNewsJackson Underdawgs prepare for another try at TBT

Jackson Underdawgs prepare for another try at TBT

Dexter Williams enjoys coaching basketball.

He’s done it for the majority of the last 20 years at multiple levels in AAU and in high school.

And for the last few years, he’s coached a group of adult players representing Jackson in The Basketball Tournament.

The team, which was made of mainly former players at Liberty Tech and South Side from about a decade earlier, has continued to compete in the TBT with Williams coaching almost every year.

And Williams, who’s in his third offseason as the boys’ coach and athletic director at Trinity Christian Academy, is preparing to lead the team, known as the Jackson Underdawgs, into another try at the tournament.

“This is always fun to be a part of,” Williams said. “Antwan Long, who played for me at Liberty and is my assistant coach here now, I think he was the one that started all this with a few of his former teammates.

“And while our team has branched outside Jackson, we’re still representing Jackson and West Tennessee on a bigger stage.”

The TBT is a 64-team single-elimination tournament with eight regional tournaments with eight teams competing in each. The eight regional winners then move on to the national tournament.

On July 25, the Underdawgs will open play this year at the Louisville regional at Freedom Hall on the campus of the University of Louisville.

“When we first started, it was pretty much a deal where everyone came on their own and paid their own way,” Williams said. “We’ve actually had a few people and businesses help out some years and sponsor us, which helps offset some of the cost.”

The attraction of the tournament is the prize for the winner. The winning team receives $1 million. The other 63 teams receive nothing.

“You have a good time playing or coaching or watching basketball, but the team that wins the championship is the only team that receives any money,” Williams said.

The closest the Underdawgs have gotten is the year they advanced to nationals and fell in the quarterfinals. But they became a known commodity immediately in their first year when they upset the top seed in their regional, The Bluegrass Boys, made of a team of University of Kentucky alumni players.

“The only qualification to play in this tournament is you can’t be a current player in the NBA or NCAA, but there are a lot of teams – probably every team – that has a bunch of guys that played in the NBA or at least big time college basketball at some point.

“And that adds to the tournament’s competitiveness. There’s not a lot of room for error because every team is so good. It’s fun to watch if you’re not playing or coaching.”

Jackson was actually awarded a regional site to be hosted at Oman Arena one year, but unfortunately, that year was 2020. Plans to host that tournament left about the time the COVID-19 virus made it to West Tennessee.

“We missed an opportunity because the TBT has only gotten bigger since then, and I don’t know if Jackson, Tennessee, can get a regional now,” Williams said. “Maybe if the Underdawgs keep winning, they’ll be willing to give us a nod.”

But for now, the Underdawgs are headed for Louisville.

Williams likes his roster.

Three Liberty alumni who were on that original team are on this year’s team – Antwan Long (Liberty, Lambuth), Anthony Sampson (Liberty, Freed-Hardeman) and Tarius Johnson (Liberty, Eastern Kentucky) will represent the Crusaders. South Side will have two alumni on Leland Robinson and former Arkansas player Jaylen Barford.

The rest of the team consists of Chris Jones (Melrose, Louisville), George Stanbury, Desonta Bradford (Humboldt, East Tennessee State), Nathan Hoover (Arlington, Wofford), Cornelius Hudson (Wake Forest), Jordan Varnado (Haywood, Troy) and Tevin Glass (ETSU) are also on the team.

Terrell Green, who was Williams’ assistant coach at Liberty and was recently named the new girls’ coach at Humboldt, will also help coach this team.

“There are other really good players from around here that I’d love to have on this team, but there’s the concern of scheduling, but also, this is a team in the truest sense of the word,” Williams said. “I have nothing to do with figuring out who will play on the team each year.

“Antwan and Anthony and TJ and some of the others, they spend hours on top of their jobs and their family obligations watching film, playing, scouting, talking with people figuring out who they want to invite to the team,” Williams said. “But if you’re someone who’s not comfortable sitting the bench if it’s not your day or not being the guy shooting the shot most of the time, then they protect the team aspect of this.

“And that makes this team fun to watch and coach.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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