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Basketball team with Pittsburgh ties seeks $1M payday for charity

| Wednesday, July 22, 2015, 9:39 p.m.
Former Penn State-Altoona coach Billy Clapper (center) and Chatham coach Andrew Garcia (left) give instructions to players for Sideline Cancer, which reached the Round of 16 in The Basketball Tournament with a pair of wins July 18 and 19, 2015, at Philadelphia University.
The Basketball Tournament
Former Penn State-Altoona coach Billy Clapper (center) and Chatham coach Andrew Garcia (left) give instructions to players for Sideline Cancer, which reached the Round of 16 in The Basketball Tournament with a pair of wins July 18 and 19, 2015, at Philadelphia University.

There's $1 million to be won on the basketball court, and one team with local ties is trying to win it for charity.

Sideline Cancer, a team playing to win money for the Hollidaysburg-based Griffith Family Foundation for pancreatic cancer research, advanced to the final 16 of The Basketball Tournament, a national 5-on-5 event that will culminate Aug. 2 in New York in a final game to be televised on ESPN.

With such a lucrative prize, most of the teams alive have former Division I and NBA players on their roster going for the cash. But former Penn State Altoona coach Billy Clapper saw the prize as a chance to do more than simply win money.

“When I first heard about this event last year, I saw it as a chance to do something for a cause that was close to me,” said team founder Clapper, who became close with the Griffith family through basketball. “Knowing we're playing for something bigger, I think it has motivated us, and I hope we can continue this ride.”

Sideline Cancer first played in the event's inaugural edition last year and was beaten by eventual champion Notre Dame Fighting Alumni, a team of former Fighting Irish players, including Chris Thomas and Tyrone Nash, and which this year added Luke Harangody to try and defend its title.

Knowing how high the level of competition would be, Sideline Cancer set out to upgrade its roster this year.

Andrew Garcia, a former Central Catholic star who played at Tulane and is the men's coach at Chatham, moved from a player role to a coaching one with the team, and Sideline Cancer entered this year's tournament as a more organized group.

“Last year, we played the Notre Dame team, and they were running advanced plays and sets that they all knew because they all played for Mike Brey,” Garcia said. “This year, we've had some practices under our belt, and we have guys who really want to play. I believe that's given us the edge.”

Among the players who have helped Sideline Cancer advance through the tournament's first three rounds are former Penn Hills and Indiana (Pa.) star Akida McLain and his former IUP teammate and 2011 Division II player of the year Darryl Webb. They join a group that includes 2014 returnees NBA D-Leaguer Russ Conley (Penn State Behrend) and John Boyer (Buffalo), and newcomers Tre Bowman (Penn State/Iona) and Kraidon Woods (Drake).

“It's great. It's a group of humble guys that work well playing together, and Drew (Garcia) is a great coach,” said McLain, who is a professional free agent. “It's good to give back. I got a call from a great guy, Billy Clapper, and got word from Darryl Webb that he'd be playing, and I definitely wanted to play.”

To reach the Round of 16, which will take place Friday in Chicago at DePaul's McGrath-Phillips Arena, Sideline Cancer won two games last weekend in Philadelphia. The second game was a 70-67 win over Big Apple Basketball — a team with former Massachussets guard Chaz Williams, former Louisville forward Derrick Caracter and former Pitt star Sam Young, who did not play last weekend.

First up for Sideline Cancer at 5 p.m. Friday is Team City of Gods — a squad with two former NBA top-10 picks in Mike Sweetney (Georgetown) and DerMarr Johnson (Cincinnati) — and a victory could give them a Saturday quarterfinal meeting with one of the tournament's top seeds, Boeheim's Army, a Syracuse alumni team featuring Hakim Warrick and Eric Devendorf.

“All of these guys on our team moved on to pro careers. We have Divsion I-level guys, and my hope is it gets them recognized,” Garcia said. “I think, as a group, they feel motivated when they go up against some of these bigger names.”

Sideline Cancer isn't the only team left in The Basketball Tournament with Pittsburgh representation. Former Schenley and St. John's guard D.J. Kennedy is in a different quarter of the bracket with Overseas Elite, a team of pros who have played outside the U.S.

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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