TBT art

North Texas men’s basketball coach Grant McCasland, right, took to Twitter on Wednesday to congratulate former players DJ Draper, center left, and JJ Murray, center right, for organizing Bleed Green, a UNT alumni team that will participate in The Basketball Tournament this summer. Both helped UNT during its run to three straight Conference USA titles the last three seasons, along with associate head coach Ross Hodge, left.

The last few weeks were anything but easy for DJ Draper as he and his former teammate JJ Murray looked to achieve a dream.

It’s been more than a month since the former North Texas guards announced that they were planning to put together a team of Mean Green alumni for The Basketball Tournament. The annual 64-team, $1 million winner-takes-all event is featured on ESPN and has become one of the premier sporting events of the summer.

Draper and Murray reached the finish line on Wednesday when the bracket for this year’s tournament was unveiled.

TBT bracket

Bleed Green is the No. 7 seed in the eight-team Wichita Region and will take on Eberlein Drive, a traditional TBT power and the No. 2 seed, at 1 p.m. on July 22.

“JJ and I are ecstatic,” Draper said. “We knew we put together a really good team with really good players. We wanted to go to Wichita. The environment will be great.”

Bleed Green’s roster is filled with former UNT greats from the last several years, including Zach Simmons and Thomas Bell. Both were members of UNT’s team that upset Purdue in the opening round of the 2021 NCAA tournament under coach Grant McCasland.

Bleed Green will also feature Shannon Shorter, who played for UNT’s 2010 NCAA tournament team under Johnny Jones. Simmons and Shorter have since played professionally overseas.

The team will also include a few players who played for other colleges and have also gone on to play professionally, including Brandon Jefferson and Murphy Holloway.

Andre Shaw, UNT’s director of basketball operations, will coach the team that faced a tough road to land a spot in the tournament as a first-time participant.

Draper and Murray had to put together a quality roster and organization as well as build interest in the team to get into the tournament.

Teams that won a game in the previous year’s tournament are guaranteed a spot the following summer.

“We were competing for 32 spots in the tournament and wanted to go to Wichita,” Draper said. “There were three or four spots there. The type of players we got, our organization and support from North Texas helped us get there.”

Bleed Green’s road in the tournament certainly won’t be any easier than the process of earning a spot in the bracket.

Eberlein Drive is one of the few teams that has participated in every tournament since TBT debuted in 2014 and has nine wins all-time.

Omari Spellman, a former Villanova standout and first-round NBA draft pick, is among Eberlein Drive’s top players. Former Western Kentucky standout A.J. Slaughter also plays for Eberlein Drive, which is the No. 2 seed in the Wichita Region.

“They’re a great team,” Draper said. “This is a year-round thing for them.”

Landing a host of former UNT greats and other players who have enjoyed success professionally has Draper feeling confident in Bleed Green’s ability to compete.

“We love the guys we were able to get,” Draper said. “They are all good people and can really play.”

University alumni teams have dominated the tournament over the last few years. Syracuse, Marquette and Ohio State alumni teams have won the tournament the last three years.

McCasland quickly took to Twitter to post a video congratulating Draper and Murray for getting a team into the tournament as well as encourage UNT fans to support the team.

“It will be a really cool opportunity for Mean Green fans to support a first for our program,” McCasland said. “It’s so cool to see these guys build this and make it happen.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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