LOS ANGELES — Sean Marshall took a step back. He had to walk away, take a lap, whatever you want to call it—the man needed to cool off.
After watching a teammate take a hard foul, Marshall reacted passionately as if he were back at Boston College, playing in yet another win-or-go-home game under his beloved head coach, Al Skinner. But he also knew that there would be no time to wait. He had to quickly back up, vent his frustrations to a buddy in the stands, and refocus for the next play.
At first, it seemed difficult to understand. These guys had qualified for NCAA Tournaments and played at the highest level of the sport. This was a summer tournament for alumni that was supposed to be for fun (that, and a $2 million cash prize). Still, there was no national recognition on the horizon with a victory here.
What could cause this kind of frustration in Marshall?
And then it all made sense: Pete Frates. Marshall’s frustration revolved around his freshman year roommate. He was playing for Frates. He was invested for Frates. And he cared about winning for Frates.
Every time Marshall passed the ball, took a shot, or drew a foul, thoughts of Frates ran through his mind.
This is the most common theme among members of BC Athletics. No matter the situation, whether it be the department’s many charity events, a historic Super Regional run for BC Baseball, or just a group of alumni taking to the hardcourt one more time, they all care and play for Frates, a legend among the Birdball community.
Eight former BC basketball players, along with seven friends, teamed up on the floor as entries in The Basketball Tournament (TBT), a single-elimination tournament with 64 teams each voted in by fans and supporters. After an opening victory, the team fell just short this weekend of advancing to the Super Sixteen in Philadelphia. But their short run didn’t come without giving another message of awareness to Frates, and his fight with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
On Sunday, No. 4 Skinner’s Frate Train fell to the No. 5 Team Colorado, comprised of University of Colorado Boulder alumni, 94-85. Joe Trapani, BC ’11, led the former Eagles with a strong offense, highlighted by 19 points in the first half alone and a strong ability to draw fouls. Skinner’s Frate Train failed to shut down Colorado’s attack from beyond the 3-point line, however, nor could the team keep Colorado off the foul line. This came after Skinner’s Frate Train took down No. 13 Mostly Sportz on Saturday night, 99-72. Marshall led the way with 26 points and four assists.
Alongside Marshall were seven of his former teammates, including Craig Smith, Tyrese Rice, and Steve Hailey. Many of these former Eagles played during the program’s best stretch, from 2004-07, when BC reached the NCAA Tournament in four consecutive years including a Sweet 16 berth in 2005-06. They were joined by seven other players who graduated from other schools, some of whom began their basketball careers at BC.
Since graduation, Marshall has expanded his athletic horizons, travelling overseas to play for the French top-tier club, JL Bourg. He is joined in France by Trapani, who currently plays for Cholet Basket. While most of the team’s members have continued their basketball careers in different countries overseas, the men have stayed in contact since college.
Their journey began roughly one year ago, Hailey reached out to Smith, Marshall, and Rice while watching the 2015 TBT Final Four. He describes sitting on his couch, sending out a group text, and receiving some pretty immediate responses.
Marshall likes to claim that he had the same idea, but for a simpler purpose: to get the boys back together.
Both Marshall and Hailey agreed that BC and the basketball program gave them the opportunity to build lifelong friendships. With their busy travel schedules, however, it becomes nearly impossible to hold post-graduation reunions.
Marshall recalled the last time that the boys had gotten together was for his wedding, about a year ago. Despite their travel and playing schedules, all of his former teammates managed to make it back to the States to celebrate the big day.
“I consider them my brothers,” Marshall said. “If it wasn’t for Boston College, I wouldn’t have been able to build all those relationships with people who I call my family now, and that’s a wonderful thing.”
Their bond is due to one man: former BC head coach Al Skinner, the man who led the Eagles to seven NCAA tournaments in his 13 years at Conte Forum. Hailey said that the team chose its name in honor of their former coach on the Heights.
When Hailey, Marshall, and Rice played under Skinner, there was immense pride in wearing the BC jersey, Hailey said. He even went so far as to dub his buddies “Skinner’s Guys,” not only for their respect for the program, but also for the athletic success that they had had during their collegiate career.
“You watch BC now, you see how we play now,” Hailey said. “You don’t have the same love for Boston College as we did with Skinner’s group.”
Listening to Hailey’s description of the current program, Marshall could only laugh.
“I mean, there is such a bad name with BC basketball right now, and it’s like, when I tell people I went to Boston College, it’s kind of funny,” Marshall said. “We just wanted to show everybody in this tournament that when we went to BC, we were a top-10 team in the country.”
While planning their team for the tournament, Marshall noticed the $2 million cash prize. He immediately called the guys up and proposed the idea of donating their potential winnings to ALS research, in honor of Frates. Marshall knew that $2 million could make a difference, not only in his former roommates’ life, but in all those suffering from ALS.
That only added to his urgency to get the team in the tournament—talent alone can’t get you in, the fans must cast votes. So Skinner’s Frate Train enlisted the help of one of the most famous BC Athletics’ alumni, Matt Ryan. The 2007 graduate and current Atlanta Falcons quarterback helped fund the team and used a video on social media to promote Skinner’s Frate Train and to raise awareness for ALS research.
By the start of the tournament, Skinner’s Frate Train tallied up over 1,100 fan votes. That fell just shy of the Marquette University alumni team (1,967 votes) and the Villanova University alumni team (1,378 votes).
The only thing left would be to get the team on board—after all, $2 million goes a long way. It didn’t take any persuasion. All 15 guys immediately agreed to play for Pete.
“It means a lot to me,” Marshall said. “I was roommates with him, you know. He’s a great guy. And he’s a fighter.”
Featured Image by Lila Brown / Ella Bee Media Group