Tra-Deon Hollins had an idea simmering in his head for a couple of years, but he wasn’t sure if he could pull it off.
Even when he fired off a few texts to guys he knew since childhood, the former UNO guard and ex-Omaha Central standout didn’t know what to expect.
Hollins wanted to assemble an Omaha Dream Team.
But did anybody share Hollins’ vision?
The goal was to compete in a 5-on-5 summer basketball tournament with a $2 million winner-take-all prize. The Basketball Tournament, now in its seventh year, allows almost anyone to petition for entry. So Hollins gave it a shot this spring.
“My biggest thing was, what can I do to show the guys that I’m serious?” Hollins said. “Once TBT acknowledged me, I reached out to a couple guys and I showed them some emails. I got a couple yeses and it was on from there. Two turned into three. Three turned into six.”
And now, Hollins has a team.
Former Creighton star Justin Patton is set to play. The Omaha North product was the No. 16 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft and most recently played for the Wisconsin Herd in the G League.
Hollins has commitments from four other Central grads who went on to play college ball — Akoy Agau (Louisville, Georgetown and SMU), Nick Billingsley (Texas-San Antonio), K.J. Scott (Texas Southern) and Tre’Shawn Thurman (UNO and Nevada).
C.J. Carter (UNO) and Tyron Criswell (Nevada) are the two former Omaha Benson standouts on the roster. Omaha Gross grad Dylan Travis, who won a Division II national title with Florida Southern, also is on the squad.
“This team we have now, we’ve got everything,” Hollins said.
They just have to make sure they secure a spot in TBT, which is televised on ESPN. Only 64 teams make the cut — eight per region.
TBT is still accepting applicants until mid-June. Some of the most well-known teams have been formed from a school’s alumni base. A squad of former Ohio State players won the tournament last year.
The games begin in July, presuming coronavirus restrictions don’t impact the schedule.
Omaha’s Finest is one of eight teams listed as “eligible” in the Wichita Region.
Building a fan following appears to be part of the application process, so Hollins is encouraging supporters to visit the team’s website (www.thetournament.com/teams/omahas-finest) to sign up for a share of the prize money.
“I think it’s going to be a blast,” said Central coach Eric Behrens, who’ll link up with Marty Levinson and Jay Landstrom as coaches for Hollins’ team. “You look at these players — not just what they accomplished in high school, but watching what they’ve done since. It’s going to be fun. And think hopefully it’s something that the community would get behind.”
Hollins hopes so, too.
He’s like a lot of Omaha hoops products, who grew up feeling somewhat overlooked on the national stage. They had something to prove back then.
And that’s still part of Hollins’ mentality when he steps on the court. He’s been in the G League the past few years.
That’ll be his mentality this summer, too. He’s got a team full of players who’ll be eager to showcase Omaha basketball to a new audience.
“It means a lot to me,” Hollins said. “Especially these guys — we never got these types of opportunities to play together after high school. A couple all-star games, maybe. But this is something that’s televised.
“There’s bragging rights on the line, over states, over universities. So we’ll have some fun, and play for some money. It’s going to be highly competitive.”
The Nebraska 100: Our greatest athletes
The Nebraska 100, originally selected in 2005 and then updated and re-ranked in 2015, came from a pool of nearly 500 names from the ranks of high school, college, amateur and professional sports from the past 140 years. Assistance came from a panel of veteran sports observers from across the state, with the newspaper's sports staff determining the final rankings.