How and why Mass St. Collective brought KU alumni to The Basketball Tournament

photo by: Mark Kuhlmann/TBT

The Mass Street bench calls out to the floor as members of the current Kansas basketball team, including Kevin McCullar Jr., KJ Adams Jr., Nick Timberlake and Justin Cross, celebrate in Wichita on July 22, 2023.

The Basketball Tournament had included just one Kansas alumni squad in its nine years of existence before the Mass St. Collective sponsored a team this year.

Mass St. serves primarily as the name, image and likeness partner of Kansas Athletics, helping secure financial partnerships for current Jayhawk athletes — thus making the connection to their predecessors somewhat more tangential. But Dan Beckler, the president and chief operating officer of Mass St., said he sees TBT as an “extension” of the Mass St. brand, rather than a deviation.

“Because NIL would not be where it is today without the former student-athletes paving the way,” he told the Journal-World.

From the collective’s perspective, Beckler said, TBT provides an opportunity not just to get its brand name on national television, particularly during an otherwise slow time of year, but also to boost the profile of former athletes who didn’t have a Mass St. when they were in school.

“It’s fun to, hopefully, from our standpoint, just kind of help them a little bit, whatever that looks like,” Mass St. Director of Athlete Engagement Stephanie Temple said. “You bring them back on campus, give them these opportunities to be back around Kansas fans.”

A sea of crimson and blue flooded the Charles Koch Arena in Wichita last week — “I learned that (the alumni) miss that crowd, and those Kansas fans, and how special they are,” Temple said — as the top-seeded TBT team rallied to avoid an upset from We Are D3 and downed rival Missouri alums from Show Me Squad before falling to Heartfire on Sunday.

In the aftermath, Mass St. tweeted that its team will “DEFINITELY be back.” Thomas Robinson posted on Instagram, in part, “I truly will go to the grave knowing that this place loves me like no other in the world … even after leaving going on my own journey as a pro and man the past 12 years I come back and you treat me no different.” Keith Langford, the 39-year-old for whom TBT was the conclusion of a venerable professional career, added that he intends to coach the team next year and help recruit younger alumni. (The team was on average 7.6 years older than its foes from We Are D3.)

Beckler said that Langford will be an invaluable resource going forward because he has seen “anything and everything that you can see in professional basketball,” citing his familiarity with FIBA rules that are incorporated into TBT.

“He has a ton of experience,” Beckler said, “and at the end of the day he was able to give a ton of different advice and utilize different tricks, maybe, that he had learned playing overseas.”

photo by: Mark Kuhlmann/TBT

Keith Langford pastes in Mass Street’s name on the TBT bracket following a first-round win in Wichita on July 19, 2023.

Langford and Tyshawn Taylor, the latter of whom had experienced numerous TBT runs with all sorts of squads, helped provide the impetus for this year’s team. Beckler said Mass St. started inquiring with TBT in January or February. He added that he wasn’t sure why KU had had such a minimal presence in previous iterations, but that it certainly helps the TBT brand “to expand their awareness into a blueblood.”

Maintaining a consistent roster wasn’t easy for Mass St., which had numerous additions and subtractions in the weeks leading up to the competition. Beckler described the process as “stressful,” thanks to contending with agents and teams and “just little details that you don’t really know about until you’re kind of in the thick of it.”

“At the end of the day we wanted to assemble the best roster possible, and there were some guys that we had signed up and committed,” Beckler said. “Fortunately for them they got some different deals that allowed them to continue playing.”

Temple helped keep things consistent off the court. She drew on her background as a former KU men’s basketball student manager under Roy Williams to serve as the TBT team’s de facto director of operations, said that Mass St.’s involvement helped with managing logistics and accumulating funding. (Temple said her role included “coordinating everything from when we’re leaving, time to meet in the lobby, places to go in between, training sessions, postgame meal, pregame meal, all that kind of stuff.”)

“You don’t have to pay to be in the tournament,” she said, “but for these guys to take potentially two and a half, three weeks out of their schedule to come — there’s lodging, there’s food … You have to go get sponsorships basically because TBT’s not paying for any of that until you get to their Final Four championship round.”

Temple found the KU community ready and willing to support this unexpected brand extension, and Mass St. had partnerships with StretchLab for fitness and Restore Wellness for cryotherapy, which donated appointments to the players (which Temple said was important, “especially for our guys being a little bit older”). They got practice facilities from Wichita Trinity Academy, restaurant gift cards from local vendors and more.

The most prominent partnership — if you can call it that — was with Mass St.’s most frequent clients, the current KU athletes. Temple said that a group reached out to her unprompted and wanted to come down Saturday for the game against Show Me. That resulted in a memorable juxtaposition, with about half the current men’s basketball team seated directly behind the Mass St. bench cheering for its predecessors. (And that wasn’t even the whole KU contingent, which also included football and women’s basketball players.)

photo by: Mark Kuhlmann/TBT

Current and former KU men’s basketball players pose for a photo following Mass Street’s victory over Show Me Squad in Wichita on July 22, 2023.

Beckler pointed out that Hunter Dickinson, for example, has only been on campus a couple months and still felt that sense of loyalty.

“I think fans, when they see that, too, it’s like, ‘Wow, Kansas is such a unique place to play basketball, look at these guys who have never met each other before still have that support,'” he said.

Mass St. officials were reluctant to pinpoint areas for future improvement so soon after the TBT run. (Asked about the team’s advanced age, for example, Beckler positioned it as “mainly because these guys have played so many years at a high level.”) But Temple said she got acclimated to how TBT runs its tournament, scheduling training and getting KU fans interested.

“We’re always going to try to do better,” she said. “It was a great foundation, and I think there’s probably a lot of things we learned. I think it was such a great start, and we just hope to grow and get better every single year.”

photo by: Mark Kuhlmann/TBT

Young Kansas fans cheer on Mass Street at the first-round TBT game at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita on July 19, 2023.

photo by: Mark Kuhlmann/TBT

Young Kansas fans cheer on Mass Street at the first-round TBT game at Charles Koch Arena in Wichita on July 19, 2023.

photo by: Mark Kuhlmann/TBT

The Mass Street TBT team drew a large Kansas-friendly crowd in Wichita for its first game in the tournament on July 19, 2023.


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