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For afternoon or night games during The Basketball Tournament, Syracuse University senior Maria Angiolillo’s friends would arrive at breakfast. Whether it was her apartment on South Campus sophomore year, or her houses on Lancaster Avenue and Euclid Avenue the next two years, Angiolillo’s was always the place she and her Otto’s Army friends would cheer on Boeheim’s Army. She’d start making pancakes, eggs, bacon and toast as the group trickled in.
In 2019, the group would then get ready for their trek to SRC Arena at Onondaga Community College to see Boeheim’s Army battle through their first two games, before they fell to Team Brotherly Love in the third round. Before she left, Angiolillo always grabbed her “perfect-condition” Sherman Douglas jersey that she grabbed for free at a yard sale.
But in 2020, most of that stopped. The size of the gatherings decreased, but Angiolillo’s friends still came over to watch TBT games. Instead of a full breakfast, the group would order pizza from Mario & Salvo’s and the vice president of Otto’s Army, Emma Platten, would bring over a taco dip.
This year, The Basketball Tournament won’t be played in a bubble setting. Instead, Boeheim’s Army travels to Peoria, Illinois, on Saturday, which is why assistant general manager and assistant coach Shaun Belbey is excited to “see a sea of orange in the crowd.” While Belbey recognizes central Illinois — about a 12-hour drive from Syracuse — is a difficult spot for fans to get to, he knows that House of ‘Paign, Illinois’ alumni team, will garner its own orange wave of fans.
“In the past couple of years we’ve been in Brooklyn … and Baltimore where the whole place has been Orange,” Belbey said. “This year we’re hoping to see some orange in the stands.”
Former Otto’s Army president and senior Jonathan Danilich and his roommate Christian Owens — known as Syracuse Water Boy on Twitter — signed the lease to their off-campus house in July. Boeheim’s Army was supposed to begin play in Syracuse, and Danilich told his roommate they’d have to come up to watch a game. Then TBT announced a regional tournament.
Last year when fans were starved of live sporting events, TBT became one of the first live sporting events to return in the United States, beginning one week after the NWSL Challenge Cup. Danilich and the rest of Otto’s Army clung to Boeheim’s Army, live tweeting and meme generating from their respective houses. The team lost in the quarterfinals to No. 22 Sideline Cancer by 17 points.
This time around I’m thinking that it’s going to be different.
Jonathan Danilich, Otto’s Army member and former president
“I think they’re going to be even more hungry because of how they lost last year,” Danilich said of the 2020 tournament. “A lot of people had them in the Final Four. A lot of people had them competing for it all.”
Belbey and his brother Kevin’s approach includes an aggressive acquisition of talent prior to the tournament. Without four-time champion Overseas Elite playing, Boeheim’s Army was able to add D.J. Kennedy and DeAndre Kane, two former TBT champions who aren’t alumni of SU. Tyrese Rice and Keifer Sykes didn’t call central New York their homes either, but Belbey said management wanted to “go out and make sure (they) had the best team possible.”
Belbey wasn’t worried about potential fan backlash, despite some wanting an all-Syracuse team to make a potential championship feel more authentic. He said that isn’t possible. All other alumni teams have some non-alumni players, Belbey said.
“Getting these players that are not part of alumni of Syracuse … brings exposure to (the) university,” Danilich said. “It brings a lot of money to the hands of people like Eric Devendorf who will do great things in the community.”
ESPN Syracuse’s Brent Axe said on his radio show that the time to win is now, and that the novelty of participating in TBT has passed. Because this is Boehem’s Army’s seventh year in TBT, the fan base has extended past Syracuse residents, Danilich said. Nick Elam, the creator of the Elam Ending, which is featured in TBT, picked Boeheim’s Army to win the tournament and its $1 million prize.
For fans such as Danilich and Angiolillo, it means more games to watch and more days to keep their long-standing group chat active. It means more days of making breakfast together, throwing on a jersey and ordering from a favorite pizza place.
“They’ve got guys that can play, but they just haven’t been able to put it all together,” Danilich said. “This time around I’m thinking that it’s going to be different.”
The post Fans return to support Boeheim’s Army after watching last season from home appeared first on The Daily Orange.