Louisiana United rallying whole Pelican State in quest for TBT 2018 title

 

By: Danny Holdsman | @DHoldsman


Stacked with some of The Pelican State's best talent, Louisiana United is the four-seed in the South

According to the Kids Count Data Center's most recent study, 45 percent of children in Louisiana grow up with only one parent in the house. This figure is 10 percentage points greater than the national average of 35 percent. Recent data suggests that this trend is becoming even worse, as 52.9 percent of children born in Louisiana in 2015 were born to single mothers.

Barry Whitley, a proud Louisiana native and current basketball trainer, has witnessed this issue firsthand.

“Most of the kids I train come from single-parent homes,” said Whitley. “Some of them aren’t able to pay, but I train them anyway because I know how important it is, especially for kids without father figures.  Mentorship is extremely important. Kids without the right mentorship can easily get caught up in the wrong things and with the wrong people, so positive mentorship is a necessity in every community.”

In conjunction with GM Jerame McNeal, Whitley has assembled a team for #TBT2018 which hopes to shed light on this important cause. Although originally sporting the name Gold and Blue Dynasty, McNeal and Whitley settled on a name they both found to be much more fitting: Louisiana United.

“Most of the guys on the team are either from Louisiana or played college ball there,” said Whitley, the team’s head coach.

This is not the first time that McNeal -- a two-time TBT participant -- and Whitley have tried to unite for TBT. According to Whitley, McNeal reached out to him last year to put a team together, but a misunderstanding led Whitley to opt out.

“We were on the same page about doing it together this year,” said Whitley. “I had a lot of guys from Louisiana who are either ex-pros or still playing, and we figured we’d give it another shot.”

While Whitley is ecstatic about the potential of his team on the floor, he takes the most pride in the work his guys do off the basketball court.

“One thing I really like about our team is that most of our guys are involved in some sort of giving back to the youth in the Louisiana community,” said Whitley.

He also credits the charitable work of his players along with the name change as primary reasons for the team’s immense success in fan voting. Louisiana United finished second overall and first in the South Region in fan support.

“I expected to do well in the fan voting, but I didn’t realize we’d do this well,” said Whitley. “I think the decision to include Louisiana really helped get people supporting us. Our players are stand up guys and haven’t had any issues off the court. When you’re a good guy who gives back to the community, you’ll tend to get that support.”

The positive representation of Louisiana not only helped the team get fan support, but it also enticed players away from other teams.

“Some of the guys were invited to play for other teams, but decided to play for us to be able to come together to represent Louisiana and their respective cities,” said Whitley.

With the looks of Louisiana United’s roster, the 1300+ fans should be more than excited to see their team in action. Both of the squad’s lead guards -- Bo McCalebb and Josh Gray -- have inked contracts with NBA teams.

McCalebb scored 2,679 points in his career at the University of New Orleans (UNO), placing him 24th among all-time leading scorers in NCAA Division I history. He was also named Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year in 2007. Following his illustrious collegiate career, McCalebb has competed in numerous overseas leagues and continued to collect his share of accolades; including 2012 Italian League MVP, two-time All-EuroLeague Second Team, and All-Tournament Team in EuroBasket 2011 as a member of the Macedonian national team.

Although he did not make the regular season roster, McCalebb suited up for the New Orleans Pelicans in the 2015 preseason.

“Playing for your hometown NBA team is everyone’s dream,” said McCalebb . “It is something that I thought would never happen, but it actually happened. It was a very proud moment for me.”

McCalebb has played basketball in Louisiana at every level and knows better than anyone how much pride his state takes in the sport. He views TBT as an opportunity to give back to the state that has given so much to him.

“It was very important for me to play for a Louisiana team,” said McCalebb. “It will be big for the state to see some of the best players in the state compete at a high level. I hope to inspire some of the kids in Louisiana who hope to get to our level. I think it’s just a big opportunity for Louisiana basketball in general.”

Louisiana United is the first Louisiana-centric team to enter TBT; but according to Whitley, it certainly won’t be the last. Since putting the team together, he’s had various major colleges, such as LSU and UNO, reach out to him to express interest in an alumni team of their own in future summers. However, Whitley does not plan on splitting this team up any time soon.

“These guys were happy to team up together,” said Whitley. “Even though this is the first time that all of us are on the same team, I still think there’s chemistry. They all respect each other and respect what each person has done as a basketball player. I think we have a good chance to be really special.”

Whitley and McNeal have both spent long hours intently watching TBT in previous summers. The two great basketball minds came together to assemble what they believe to be the perfect TBT team.

“I’ve seen TBT in the past and know the formula,” said Whitley. “You have to have quality guards, a bunch of guys between 6’5 and 6’8 who can play multiple positions, and a mobile big man.”

McCalebb and Gray provide guard play that stacks up to anyone in this year’s tournament; six players on the current roster stand somewhere between 6’5 and 6’8 and add an element of versatility; and 6’10 George Mason alum Mike Morrison fills the role of mobile center.

As all sports fans realize, games and tournaments cannot be won on paper. Whitley hopes to use the next handful of weeks to get his team playing together prior to the start of South Regional on July 13. Louisiana United has yet to practice as a team, but Whitley is well-aware of his team’s potential for a deep run in TBT.

“Jerame and I put together a really, really good team that can shock a lot of people,” said Whitley. “We all just want to win.”