Moments after entering a room at a New York City hotel this past March, Anthony Grant turned around, walked out and tried to collect himself.
When the Dayton men's basketball head coach returned, his players knew Grant, who had guided them through an undefeated Atlantic 10 season to secure a projected No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, had bad news.
The Atlantic 10 tournament at Brooklyn's Barclays Center had been canceled, and the Flyers would soon lose their shot at the school's first national championship after the NCAA tournament also was canceled amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
"He walked in first and then he walked back out," said Trey Landers, a senior who averaged 10.5 points per game during the 2019-2020 season and will represent the Dayton community as a member of Red Scare in The Basketball Tournament (TBT). "You could tell he was kind of emotional. He stood me up in front of everybody and hugged me and he just started crying. It was an emotional time."
As Ryan Mikesell, who also will play for Red Scare, listened to Grant four months ago, he tried to process the sudden ending of a magical season.
"All these assistants were hugging me and stuff and I still didn't want to believe it," said Mikesell, another senior, who averaged 8.5 PPG last season. "[Assistant coach Ricardo Greer] was holding me. I just walked out of the room. I was just so emotional. I couldn't believe it."
Red Scare, a team led by former Dayton standouts, will face Big X, a squad anchored by former Big Ten standouts Nick Ward and Trevon Hughes, on Wednesday at 2 p.m. ET on ESPN.
While the winner-take-all event with a $1 million prize can't replace the thrill Mikesell and Landers both expected to enjoy in the NCAA tournament, they said they're excited to play basketball again after months off the court because of the pandemic.
"It's everything," Landers said. "It's not even just the university but that's where I come from. I'm a Dayton kid. I was very, very excited when I got the opportunity. Being able to represent my city and my campus is very important to me."
TBT has lost five teams because of positive tests for COVID-19. The event's health and safety plan demands automatic withdrawal of any team if a player tests positive during the event's mandatory five-day quarantine period prior to competition. But Landers said event organizers have taken the proper precautions.
"It's a crazy time but they have to be really cautious with everything that's going on," Landers said. "I really salute the TBT because they've done a great job of organizing things."
With the Red Scare, Mikesell and Landers said they hope to give Flyers fans a reason to cheer after the disappointing end to the season, when the Flyers went 29-2 behind Wooden Award winner Obi Toppin.
Although Dayton ended the year on a 20-game winning streak, the team was still left with a series of what-ifs. Landers said, however, he doesn't have any doubts about the way the year would have ended if the NCAA tournament had not been canceled.
"We were going to be national champions, no question," Landers said.
In TBT, they'll play next to former Dayton players, such as Kyle Davis and Jalen Robinson. Red Scare also includes Ryan McMahon, who averaged 8.7 PPG at Louisville last season, and Trevor Thompson, who averaged 10.6 PPG and 9.2 RPG for Ohio State during the 2016-17 season.
"It's exciting," Mikesell said. "I've had so many people reach out to me. They're excited. It's the first live basketball, period. We're glad we can share some positivity with the sports world."
If Red Scare can beat Big X on Wednesday, it will set up a potential matchup with Carmen's Crew, the reigning TBT champion. Red Scare lost to Carmen's Crew in the Columbus, Ohio, regional championship last year.
"I don't think the TBT will completely heal the wound but it'll definitely be a start," Mikesell said. "It's good to have some sort of positive in your life with everything going on. ... I remember watching it on TV last year when they played Carmen's Crew in the [regional] championship. I'm happy to get a chance to play again."