Adam March built sweat equity in University at Buffalo basketball decades ago. An honorable mention in the hard-nosed Niagara Frontier League his senior year at Kenmore East, March brought the tough, physical ethos his high school league was known for to UB’s practice squad in 1999 during the tumultuous final weeks of Tim Cohane’s coaching tenure.
March was back on the practice floor in Alumni Arena’s triple gymnasium this week, helping an all-star squad of UB alumni prepare for their debut in The Basketball Tournament, the 64-team, single-elimination, made-for-TV event that awards $1 million to the winning team.
Having built a business empire with Ken East classmate Dan Valentine in the finance and tech sectors, along with real estate investments including the renowned 67 West Chippewa property anchoring downtown Buffalo’s entertainment district, March remained a basketball junkie. A mainstay in open gyms and local rec leagues who even appeared in an exhibition game in the Canadian professional league as an injury replacement for Buffalonian Loren Stokes a few years back, at 40, March can still dunk the ball to celebrate each passing birthday.
“Anybody who is into hoops like that is good in my book,” said Bryan Hodgson, the former UB assistant now working with Nate Oats at Alabama. “I’ve known him my entire time here at UB, and even a little bit before I got the job here, as a Buffalo guy who just loves the game. For about 10, 15 years, any pickup game in Buffalo, any league, any tournament, Adam was there.”
Purchasing court side tickets and becoming a UB donor in 2015, March enjoyed an up-close and personal view as the Bulls rose to national prominence in basketball. Riding along on the Mid-American Conference title runs and NCAA tournament trips, March received four championship rings from UB in appreciation of his support for the program.
“I was never a Division I college-level basketball player, but I’ve always loved to be around it as much as I could,” March said. “Even if I couldn’t play at that high of a level, putting that passion into being involved with UB has been really exciting.”
While UB players like Nick Perkins had mused about putting a team in the TBT over the years, it was March who got the ball rolling. A business associate, Andrew Zoldan, who hosts several sports podcasts, including Inside TBT, mentioned that organizers were interested in bringing UB’s blue-collar brand of basketball into the field.
“It was less about my connection with Andrew and more about how everybody just loved those Buffalo teams,” March said. “It’s not just a local or regional thing. Everybody knows about Buffalo basketball. Everybody was watching the rise, and the run that Buffalo was having. The country was very aware of these players and rooting for them. They have fans in more than just Buffalo. And the TBT, they want teams with a fan base, teams that have a story behind them.”
March called Hodgson, the master recruiter, to see if he could help put a team together. In less than 10 minutes, Hodgson reported back with commitments from nearly every player on their wish list.
“That’s what he does,” said Dontay Caruthers, the former UB guard who has known Hodgson since their time together at Indian Hills Community College. “That’s why he gets top 10 recruiting classes” at Alabama.
With the key players committed to the Blue Collar U mission, March got to work facilitating travel, lodging, meals and other amenities — including interactions with local artists Benny The Butcher and Westside Gunn, who outfitted the team in Buffalo Kids swag — for the team’s five-day training camp in Buffalo and this weekend’s trip to the Columbus regional. He is covering most all of the team’s expenses, estimated at around $12,500.
“And if they win the $1 million, I don’t want a penny of it,” March said. “I want the players to get it and really just thrive off the opportunity for a big prize and thrive off of the exposure they are going to get.”
UB players recognize March for his court side support during their championship runs, and have gotten to know him better through this TBT experience.
“He’s a real cool guy,” Caruthers said. “He cheers for UB basketball to the fullest and is willing to help out in any way possible. Being court side in practice, he’s always giving us a little boost. I heard he could shoot a little, back in the day, so I want to see him on the court sometime.”
C.J. Massinburg was impressed by March’s memorabilia collection, including autographed Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant jerseys.
“He’s a very intelligent and genuine guy who you can tell just loves the game of basketball,” Massinburg said. “He’s made some great contributions to this whole deal and he’s one of us now.”
March envisions Blue Collar U as a perennial TBT contender.
“This is just the first run,” he said. “Most of these guys aren’t even 25 and they are all committed to coming back next year. I think we can have a five-yer run trying to win this thing year after year.”
TBT organizers have enlisted March to help secure KeyBank Center as a venue for a future regional, he said.
This weekend in Columbus, March will get to sit court side on the other end of the floor, with his two sons, age 11 and 12, on the Blue Collar U bench.
“I’m really appreciative of the appreciation these guys have shown me,” he said. “I just wanted to set it up. I didn’t think I would be this involved. I’m not a coach. I’m not a player. I’ve been involved as a supporter, but I’m on the outside. These players were a big part of my entertainment life for a long time. I sit court side every game. My kids know them. They’ve been household names in my house for years. Having the opportunity to give them this experience has been really special for me to be a part of it.”