COLUMBUS, Oh. (WTOC) - Savannah High alum Chris Cokley knows there is a lot on the line for him the next few days.
The former Blue Jacket star is a part of Team Herd That in The Basketball Tournament, a winner-take-all, million dollar hoops tourney.
On Thursday, Cokley had 32 points and seven rebounds as Herd That rallied from 18 points down to stun The Money Team 102-99 to reach the tournament quarterfinals.
“We just kept reiterating fight, fight, fight,” Cokley says.
A former UAB Blazer standout, Cokley was asked to join this team of Marshall alumni after getting to know many on the team through playing each other in college.
Now he and the Thundering Herd alum are three wins away from a million bucks.
Cokley says life in The Tournament bubble has been different. He says players aren’t able to do much but practice, play, and walk around the hotel they’re staying in Columbus.
“Dinner was kind of funny. They’d knock on your door and say dinner’s ready,” Cokley says. “You’d open your door and it’s right there on the floor waiting on you.”
But he says the restrictions have given him peace of mind about his own health. Cokley admits he was a little unsure of things when he first arrived.
“They’re not playing. If someone on any team tests positive, that whole team is disqualified,” Cokley says. “Honestly, I’m just staying in my room or going to practice. Literally, everywhere you go, any room you walk in, they’re taking your temperature or they’re giving you a test.”
Playing in that bubble also means playing without fans. Cokley says that’s been one of the other oddities of playing basketball in the middle of a pandemic.
“Me and the guys on the court have been joking about it. It’s almost like we’re in practice or an open scrimmage. It’s like pickup,” he laughs. “The only people you hear is the people on the sidelines when someone makes a good play on the court or your teammates cheering you on.”
It’s a different playing environment for everyone, but Cokley feels his team is handling the strangeness better than others.
“You can kind of use it to your advantage, especially if your team is being loud and cheering you on and the other team is just sitting there,” he says. “It’s just so quiet. I bet it throws a lot of people off if you’re used to the fans cheering and keeping them pumped up and things like that.”
The Basketball Tournament considered Savannah a finalist to host the 2020 edition before Columbus was ultimately chosen. Cokley says he’s not sure he would’ve enjoyed himself as much as someone might thing if this tournament was being played in his hometown.
“It probably wouldn’t have been as cool because we’d still be in a bubble,” he laughs. “It would’ve kind of sucked not being able to see my family, my hometown, and things like that.”
Team Herd That takes on Overseas Elite, led by seven-time NBA All-Star and former Atlanta Hawk Joe Johnson, Saturday afternoon for a spot in the semifinals.
While a share of the million dollars would certainly be a nice payoff, Cokley hopes a solid tournament performance could also lead to his next step in pro basketball.
“This gives a lot of people who may not have seen me play before an outlet to actually tune in and see what type of player I am,” he says.
Cokley has played three seasons in Europe, though his last was interrupted by a shoulder injury. Now he says he’s 100 percent and looks it so far. Through two games at TBT, Cokley is averaging 20 points and five rebounds per contest.
“I’m just kind of taking this as an opportunity for me to get more exposure for myself,” he says. “And you know, win a little money.”
Cokley and Herd That face Overseas Elite Saturday at 2:00 p.m., airing on ESPN. The winner advances to the semifinals on July 12.