Money in the bank: UB’s Blue Collar U wins $1 million TBT prize

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DAYTON, Ohio – Cash didn’t rain onto Blue Collar U, only blue, white and gold confetti. Yet as the team of University at Buffalo men’s basketball alumni hugged each other and shouted in elation, their happiness was authentic.

Besides, who wouldn’t be elated at the knowledge that they had just won $1 million? Even if that stack of cash wasn’t immediately within reach?

“This means everything,” Blue Collar U guard CJ Massinburg said. “Just for the city. Just for everybody who was watching us. The victims (of the Tops Market shooting) and their families. It just means everything.

“Man, there’s something special at UB. There’s something special with this group of guys. It’s not the last of us.”

In the moments after Blue Collar U’s 89-67 win against Americana for Autism in the championship game of The Basketball Tournament on Tuesday, several of the former Bulls attempted to fathom all they had just accomplished together. 

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It was a little bit of a task, given that adrenaline was still rushing through them, that family members surrounded to congratulate them and that ESPN’s cameras were trying to catch every angle in hectic scrums on the floor at UD Arena. Even former UB men’s basketball coach Nate Oats, now in the same role at Alabama, was in the celebration for his former players.

This was the first time since March of 2019 a group of UB players had won a championship. That year, Massinburg and the Bulls won UB’s fourth Mid-American Conference tournament championship.

With the addition of players from previous years at UB – and from previous MAC championship teams – Blue Collar U quickly resurrected its chemistry.

“It kind of feels like college,” said Massinburg, who scored 18 points and had eight rebounds, and was named the tournament’s most valuable player. “Everybody came in and they knew their role and they did it, to a ‘T.’ Those are the best teams, where nobody is trying to do more than they can.”

Nick Perkins scored a team-high 19 points and Wes Clark added 17 points – including 14 in the first half — and seven rebounds to help Blue Collar U complete its six-win, 11-day journey.  

No cash was exchanged in the immediate moments after Blue Collar U won $1 million – players had money transferred to bank accounts electronically when they were in the locker room (and likely after taxes are taken out) – but the UB alumni team cashed in on defense and utilized a dominating first half that included sharp-shooting from 3-point range to earn the summer’s biggest prize in basketball.

With the pot being split, Blue Collar U’s players will receive anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000, and have pledged to donate a portion of those winnings to Coaching Love, a nonprofit founded by team general manager Bryan Hodgson that benefits foster children and at-risk youth through sports and coaching.

Clark also plans to use his winnings to finance a private-school education for his children, 8-year-old Cobi and 4-year-old Chase, and Massinburg plans to sock some money away to plan for the future of his newborn son, Chance Joel – nicknamed “Little CJ.”

“I’m not the first person to be good at basketball,” Clark said. “Somebody taught me, and I just want to keep that legacy going, for my son and for those who come after us.”

A 13-4 run, sparked by three 3-pointers by Clark, helped Blue Collar U take a 25-13 lead after the first quarter. Americana for Autism made an attempt to chip away at Blue Collar U’s double-digit lead early in the second, but could only narrow the margin to nine points three times in the quarter.

“Wes went absolutely bonkers,” Massinburg said of Clark’s first half. “Went crazy! As soon as that happened, the game was out of control. Let’s talk about this guy, right here!”

Each time, Blue Collar U answered with a bucket, including Dontay Caruthers’ 3-pointer about 2 1/2 minutes into the second, after Femi Olujobi’s free throws. That opened Blue Collar U’s lead back to 14, at 31-17, and Blue Collar U shot 7 for 13 on 3-pointers in the first half, en route to a 45-31 lead at halftime.

Blue Collar U opened its lead to as many as 18 points in the first four minutes of the third quarter, then opened its lead to 67-45 on Massinburg’s 3-pointer, followed by his two free throws, with a little more than two minutes left in the third.

Then, ahead 80-65 when the Elam Ending went into effect at the under-4 minute mark of the fourth – with a target score of 88 – the UB alumni team seemingly ripped through the final buckets. Montell McRae’s dunk capped off the win, and netted Blue Collar U a major payday.

“We started getting anxious about that money, and we were rushing a little bit, and taking some shots that were a little forced,” Clark said of Blue Collar U’s final eight points. “But it was a way to get it done, and just get that enjoyment across the finish line and start celebrating.”