By TREY WILLIAMS
Former East Tennessee State basketball player Dillon Reppart is trying to generate some bucks for Bucs – and himself.
Reppart, an assistant coach at David Crockett, is the general manager of the fledgling Southern Smokies, which will compete in The Basketball Tournament this summer.
The fourth annual event, which features high-profile college alumni such as Jimmer Fredette, is tentatively scheduled due to the coronavirus pandemic for July 23-Aug. 11. Eight regionals are held (ETSU would play in Charleston, West Virginia) to decide an Elite Eight, which will reconvene in Dayton, Ohio.
Reppart, a senior at ETSU on the 2017-18 team and a former go-to guy at Daniel Boone, is the general manager. His roster is a work in progress but near completion, and includes former ETSU teammates T.J. Cromer, Isaac Banks, Jalan McCloud and Devontavius Payne. The roster includes players from Chattanooga, Western Carolina and Furman.
Reppart decided he needed one of four players if he was going to enter a team in the winner-take-all shootout for $2 million, and Cromer was one of those four.
“I said, ‘Okay, if this is gonna happen this year, I need one of these four guys to commit. If I can get one of these four to commit, I’ll make this thing happen,’” Reppart said. “So I reached out to those four guys and one of them was T.J. Cromer. T.J. said he was all in and then the whole idea kind of came about with Isaac Banks. Of course, I had to get with Ike and see if he wanted to coach or play. He’s improved so much since he left ETSU, he wants to get a shot to prove how much better he’s gotten. I picked up T.J. and Ike, and we’ve kind of plotted from there who else we wanted. It’s been a lot of fun, for sure.
“If you put all these guys on one team in the NCAA two to three years ago when they were all in school, you’re talking about a Top 10 team, in my opinion. I don’t think we’re getting the national attention that we should, but I think Southern Conference fans and people that know about the SoCon know how valuable this team could be.”
The coaching staff, which could change due to former ETSU coach Steve Forbes getting the Wake Forest job, includes head coach Brian Forbes and assistants Jermaine Long, Chris Forbes and Reppart. The players would get the lion’s share of the winnings.
“None of this would happen if it wasn’t for the players,” Reppart said. “They’re the guys doing the majority of the work.”
Benefits for players include exposure, free travel and board and Puma gear and apparel. Reppart, a 6-foot-3 southpaw that was smooth in the mid-range, said all of the Smokies play professionally.
“That was one of my main rules, to make sure they are still playing professionally,” he said. “I wanted to make sure they are still in shape.”
Reppart said the league is growing in popularity. The payout was $1 million each of the first two years and doubled last year.
“Jimmer Fredette had a team, I think, last year and the year before,” Reppart said. “Chris Paul had a team last year. Demarcus Cousins, I think, got a Kentucky alumni team together. (Bobby) Maze from Tennessee got a team together this year with a bunch of old heads like Chris Lofton, Jarnell Stokes, Wayne Chism.
“It’s a pretty big deal, especially this year. It’s probably gonna be bigger than it has been in the past. Every year it’s picked up. Last year the Ohio State team won it with Aaron Craft.”
Reppart would like to add former teammate Dasonta Bradford to future rosters if not this year. He said someone had already reached out to Bradford about playing for a Jackson-based team this year.
“Dasonta and Ike sat down with me about putting team together but someone had already reached out to him,” Reppart said. “Whether it’s this year or (in the future), I think Dasonta’s gonna play for the Smokies at some point.”
Reppart was happy to see ETSU assistant coach Jason Shay promoted when Forbes went to Wake Forest.
“I guess this is kind of harsh, but I would’ve had a hard time supporting ETSU as much as I’d wanted to if they’d passed up on Shay,” Reppart said. “So I was very, very happy they hired Shay. I talked to a bunch of these guys on the TBT (Smokies) team, and it wouldn’t be the same if someone came in here with a whole new staff. …
“It’s not like that’s the only reason they wanted Shay. All of us players, we saw the behind-the-scenes. Nothing against Forbes, by no means, but Shay put in just as much effort.
Reppart said a number of transfers at ETSU would comment about having never seen a coach quite like Shay.
“He’s a different animal when it comes to game-planning and knowing the game,” Reppart said. “Yea, he may not have the media experience that Forbes does talking to the camera. I always say Shay is kind of like Bill Belichick. He’s to the point and knows what he’s talking about. He knows the game, that’s for sure. I’m beyond excited he got the job. …
“Coach Forbes, I mean, he can do anything. But it will be interesting to see how he does without his two-headed monster. I think he’s gonna be very successful, but it will be something we haven’t seen before without Shay right there at his side.”
Reppart also weighed in on Bo Hodges, a rising ETSU senior that entered the transfer portal this week.
“I love Bo,” Reppart said. “I got to play one year with Bo. We all saw the potential there as a freshman. It is neat seeing some of these guys come through and be a full four-year player. That’d definitely be a pro for Bo if he does decide to come back.
“I think ETSU is getting to that level to where he doesn’t really need to go to a bigger school to get that recognition if he’s trying get into a big league overseas or the G League, or a shot at the NBA. I think ETSU’s at that level now where he’s gonna get his shot here.”
But Reppart understands if Hodges decides to transfer.
“I think Bo has probably talked it over with his family and he’s gonna make the right choice for him,” Reppart said. “And I don’t think any of us Buc faithful should give him a hard time for that. Going to a new coach there’s definitely gonna be some bumps along the road.
“I think if Bo does leave their roster is still gonna be one of the best in the SoCon, and with Bo I think they’re another championship team. Either way, I see ETSU being the top dog again, but Bo being on the team would definitely help. All of us alums that got to play with Bo fully support whatever way he goes, but I’d love to see him in an ETSU jersey again.”