On Aug. 6 at 8 p.m. ET, former Maryland and Georgetown men’s basketball players will look to rekindle a local rivalry when they face off in an alumni game at the Xfinity Center in College Park.
This will be the first event under the Alumni Basketball League, which was co-founded by former Missouri and Los Angeles Lakers guard Kareem Rush. In his three years at Missouri, Rush was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year, a two-time selection on the All-Big 12 First Team and even Missouri’s men’s basketball player of the decade for the 2000s.
I sat down with Rush to discuss how this league came about, how the Alumni Basketball League differs from other established leagues (such as The Basketball Tournament and the BIG3), their plans moving forward as far as other historic rivalry games and what fans can expect on Aug. 6 when Georgetown faces off against Maryland.
Etan Thomas: So tell me about the Alumni Basketball League and how it all came about.
Kareem Rush: “Sure, The Alumni Basketball League is the first professional league exclusively for college alumni teams. So back in 2017, I was watching the TBT tournament and looking at the roster, I saw that 27 of these teams were alumni teams, and I was like, ‘Man, why not just create a league specific for alumni teams?’ Also, I was a part of the first year of the BIG3, so I understood when I went through that try-out, it was literally hundreds of guys with tons of NBA experience vying for 20 spots. So I was like, ‘Man, I know guys are always looking for an opportunity to play.’ The NCAA is really the only entity that’s capitalizing on the collegiate marketplace, so I was like, ‘Man, why not just create a league specifically for those guys?’ So 2018, being a Mizzou guy, and my younger brother being a KU guy, which is a huge rivalry in Kansas City…
Etan Thomas: Right.
Kareem Rush: “So, the first game, centered around a charity, we were doing it for The Boys and Girls Club, but the response was amazing. We had over 2,500 people there. I was like, ‘This could be something.’ So, the following year, we wanted to expand the concept. We had Kansas State and Arkansas scheduled to come in, but ended up running into some scheduling conflicts because of the TBT and the BIG3. So we put the second year on the shelf. And then COVID hit, so it sat there for two years. Fast forward to March of this past year, I’m down in Missouri for our 20-year reunion and one of my buddies and former teammates, Jack Jackson, who’s now a big DMV guy, asked me what I’ve been up to. I told him a little bit about the concept, he’s like, ‘Man, I love it.’ So he decided he was going to back it, then the last three months, we’ve been pushing forward.
“We ended up bringing another former teammate, Jason Conley, aboard and he’s based in the DMV area. We asking him like, ‘What can we pull off for a couple exhibition games in this first year?’ And so, he knew the guys over at Georgetown and Maryland and really led that charge to get the game going. We’ve been just going as we go for the last month, brought in a couple of the guys, Ricky Goings and Marc Stern, added to our organization and now, here we are a month later; we got this game scheduled for August 6. Our plan is to do another one here in Kansas City in late August or early September to get two proof-of-concept games under our belt. And then, really zero in on identifying teams for the 2023 season where we play between eight-to-16 games. Ideally, having between 16 and 32 of these teams put together.”
Etan Thomas: Word traveled fast about this. People are really excited about it in the DMV.
Kareem Rush: “I know, and that’s mostly just from the initial marketing through social media and me reaching out to some of these GMs on some of these TBT teams who already got these teams established. The response has been great from players. Being a former player, I understand that guys just want an opportunity to stay in shape, make a little money. Our target guys are those guys either fresh out of college, guys who play overseas. You come back in town, you want to stay in shape, make a little money. This is the league for them. Then another unique aspect of what we’re doing, all these leagues are built off the back of these players but very few have actual ownership. So another piece that we’re doing is once we get the model established and we can really see what we’re doing, we want to allow these guys to be able to buy in and own their own franchises.
“So you see these former NBA guys or current NBA guys who still have huge events for their colleges may want to come in and buy a franchise and operate and run it like the businessmen they are today. So, we believe we have a good starting point. Like I said, the response has been great. We’re just looking forward to getting these first two exhibitions off the ground, really focusing in on that 2023 season where we launch media partners, streaming, eventually gambling. So we got a lot of things that we’re working on.”
Etan Thomas: I really like the player-empowerment part. You don’t see that in most of these leagues. The people who are usually benefiting the most are people outside of the player boundaries. How did you decide to add that component to everything that you’re doing?
Kareem Rush: “Being a former player and really seeing that first year in the BIG3, where a lot of those guys — you got Baron Davis, the Junkyard Dog, Al Harrington, all those guys — where that little per-game check was not really moving the needle for them; they really want to own some things. And now today, as you see what LeBron and KD and all these guys are doing business-wise, I was like, ‘Man, a lot of these guys are really business savvy, so why not give them an opportunity to be on the ground level of a league where they lend their celebrity and influence to the league and they grow with the league?’ And so, that’s where the concept came from. Like I said, as a former player, I would love to have some ownership in what I’m doing and as we see how much these franchises are worth, why not give the opportunity back to the players who build the league?”
Etan Thomas: So you’re planning on taking this show on the road in 2023. Do you already have teams in mind? People are buzzing about the different possibilities or potential rivalry games that we could see. Have you keyed in on the other possible rival games?
Kareem Rush: “I’m glad you asked that and yes, we actually have. Once the TBT started putting out their schedule, I was able to literally just reach out to some of those GMs from those teams and have initial conversations. This is a few months back before we started having some development and shape into our league. So we got a pretty good list of teams that we want to target. A lot of these teams are already established, so it’s really just about getting the scheduling on our end. But I would say we probably talked to 12-or-16 teams at this point who all have shown interest. And I think for the first part of the league, our first couple of years, we really want to zero in on those historic college rivalries where we can build the concept around those fan bases and that madness and hoopla that build around those rivalries.
“Think of a Duke/North Carolina or a KU/MU or UCLA/USC. From my playing days, I still got connections to a lot of those teams and I think once the concept is out there and marketed properly, we’re going to have guys reaching out to us, beating down our door to be a part of it.”
Etan Thomas: And correct me if I’m wrong, but your model differs from TBT because you offer an actual per-game salary for the players, correct?
Kareem Rush: “I see you did your homework, that’s exactly correct. So, unlike TBT, where one team gets all the money and the other teams who come out and prep for months and months on end don’t really see anything on the back end. So we’re allowing guys to make a decent amount of money in the summertime, stay in shape, and then, once the overseas season goes, ‘Go ahead and go back over there,’ we want to be that league where you come home and play in front of your fans. You can really tap into that network.”
Etan Thomas: Could the players also benefit from NIL deals or sponsorships as well?
Kareem Rush: Definitely. Now with the NIL, we can actually present some of the current players that come back [with deals] because I don’t see any university that doesn’t want to keep that connection with their former alumni. So bridging the gap there, allowing these guys to come back and play on campus is beneficial for everyone involved.”
Etan Thomas: So for this game in Maryland, you got the Xfinity Center. That shows right there that it’s beneficial for the college. It’s not like y’all are playing at the YMCA or something.
Kareem Rush: “Exactly, I was actually surprised I was able to get the Xfinity Center for this first game in Maryland. We originally had Georgetown Prep scheduled. So that shows you that the schools will eventually want to jump on board and be a part of this because we have between eight-to-16 former legends coming back to be a part of the game. So we’re excited about it, man. Like I said, we think we’ve got some legs. We’re looking forward to pushing it full scope in 2023.”
Etan Thomas: Sounds great. Don’t forget to throw Syracuse in that mix when you’re moving forward!
Kareem Rush: “Oh definitely, I already talked to the Boeheim Army guys so we got you! (laughing)”
Etan Thomas: Great, great. Yeah, because especially from that Big East, there are some great rivalries — I mean the original Big East. Now, of course, the conference is all messed up. Don’t even get me started on that. But yeah, the original Big East rivalries, there’s Syracuse/Georgetown, Syracuse/St. John’s, Villanova/UConn. Those are classic Big East rivalries. But let’s talk about this one that’s coming up with Maryland and Georgetown and what everybody can expect. Both Maryland and Georgetown have a huge fan base here. I live here in Maryland, so I see it. Everybody was excited when you put out the roster of players, and they get more excited every time they announce another alumni who’s going to be in attendance. I saw Georgetown legends like JYD, Michael Graham, Mark Tillmon, Gene Smith and Maryland legends like Joe Smith, Walt Williams, Duane Simpkins, Tony Massenburg. Every name creates more buzz, but talk about what everybody can expect for this game coming up on the 6th.
Kareem Rush: “We just want to put a good product on the court. Like I said, we have a nice mix of young and older players, because we always want to tap into those older fans who saw Juan Dixon, Steve Blake, Lonny Baxter and that group when they won the championship. So trying to get those guys to come up for those people who love the University of Maryland and Georgetown from top to the bottom. Come out, expect a good time! And as this concept grows, we plan on having a family night when we can come in and do some networking events with the guys, interacting with the former alumni and all that type of stuff. So we plan on building much more than just a game. It’s going to be more of an entertainment-and-networking event component for them to do moving forward. So just come out, see some old players, have a good time, get a chance to honor and meet-and-greet some of the legends and then, just get ready for 2023!”
Source: Basketball News