Men of Mackey | Ryan Kay | Purdue basketball | TBT
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GM Ryan Kay assembles Men of Mackey

GM Ryan Kay is busy assembling the 2021 version of Men of Mackey
GM Ryan Kay is busy assembling the 2021 version of Men of Mackey (Men of Mackey)

Ryan Kay never expected to be in this position. But when given the opportunity, he has made the most of it.

Kay is the founder and general manager of Purdue's The Basketball Tournament (TBT) Men of Mackey team. The 2009 Purdue graduate (Krannert School of Management) has served in the GM position for the two years of the Men of Mackey's existence. And it is a labor of love, because all of this commitment to this relatively new endeavor is in addition to his day job as a financial planner. It sure makes for a hectic spring and summer.

"A lot of different pieces kind of came together at the right time," said Kay, who didn't have any connection with Purdue men's basketball in any capacity as an undergrad,

"I was a fan," Kay said.

After graduation, Kay became involved with the Purdue Alumni Club of Fort Wayne. He later got to know fellow Fort Wayne natives Rapheal Davis and Grady Eifert and that germinated his connection to Boilermaker basketball.

"I asked Grady after the Elite Eight Run of 2019 if he had ever thought of putting a TBT team together," Kay said. "I was still just a fan at that point, but a fan with an idea."

As luck would have it, Kay's high school teammate at Fort Wayne's Blackhawk Christian had been a general manager of a successful TBT team, and the two had lunch. With a little encouragement from his buddy, and Eifert and P.J. Thompson's subsequent commitment to help recruit players, Kay thought there was a chance this could work.

Things were falling into place as expected until COVID-19 came around last spring. Kay had to be nimble in last summer's inaugural experience and called it "really stressful" working within the framework of all of the COVID-19 safety protocols,

But Kay had managed to use his connections, and they came through for him, as well. Finances were (and always are) a concern. Due to his role with the Purdue Alumni Association in Fort Wayne, Kay was able to secure financial support from the Purdue For Life Foundation. The TBT Tournament also assisted with the expenses, and was driven to not postpone the 2020 event which ultimately took place "a bubble" in Columbus, Ohio.

As one of the first live sporting events of the COVID-19 crisis, made especially for ESPN, it paved the way for more bubble-like events to come later. Kay is fast to share credit with coach Ryne Smith, the former Boilermaker guard (2009-12) for making it all work, despite the obstacles. The team advanced to the second round before being eliminated in the $1 Million winner-take-all event.

That was the first-year experience for Kay, Smith and his team. Despite COVID's lessening impact, Year Two will be a challenge in different ways. Purdue For Life, and its CEO Matt Folk, have again stepped up to assist, but the BIG difference in 2021 is that the TBT is expecting its entrants to pay their own way in 2021. With the financial help Kay has garnered so far, he is about half way to the projected budget that might be necessary if the team advances in the single-elimination tournament which begins on July 23 in Columbus, Ohio.

"The Purdue Center for Cancer Research will be our team sponsor and very generously wrote a check," said Kay, who said Purdue For Life and the Purdue Center for Cancer Research will cover a portion of the roughly $40,000 it will take to feed, house and pick up travel costs for the players. Kay said that the teams have to shoulder the costs of gym rental for practice.

"It's just about all on us financially this year," Kay said. "But we are also soliciting boosters, and we've got a full booster package to offer interested companies and individuals."

And one good thing for boosters is it is set up to benefit the Tyler Trent Foundation, donations can be given through Purdue. (To become a booster, click here)

"For people that want to give at certain levels, we can offer different things like tickets, being able to attend a practice or a meet and greet, depending on the TBT COVID protocols," said Kay, who can also be reached at ryankay4905@gmail.com. "The players have all agreed that if they share the $1 million prize winnings that each will support the Tyler Trent Foundation, so that is a great commitment on their part."

Check out the entire interview with Men of Mackey GM Ryan Kay

Kay is grateful that the legacy of Tyler Trent, and his Foundation, serves as a galvanizing force.

"It means everything to our guys, it has a way of giving it purpose," Kay said.

To win that prize money, The Men of Mackey have to win a total of six games in the 64-team event, surviving three contests the first weekend in games played at Ohio State's 3,700-seat Covelli Center and then winning three more the following weekend in the "Elite-8" final played in the University of Dayton Arena (13,435).

Kay thinks the Men of Mackey can make a serious run and hopes Purdue fans will do what they usually do, and that's support the team at the event, as full capacity at the venues is expected.

The focus for Kay and Smith continues to be assembling the roster which will consist of 10-12 players. With putting together any team, chemistry and balance are a priority. That, and having a roster dominated by former Purdue players.

"We really wanted to try to concentrate on this year was making sure we have a more strong core of Purdue guys, " Kay said.

But that can be a moving target. Plans can change in a moment. Take today's announcement of Kyle Mangas. The Warsaw, Ind., sharpshooting guard, who is the two-time NAIA player-of-the-year for Indiana Wesleyan, will join the team. But Mangas also could get an opportunity to join the NBA's Summer League, and timing won't allow him to do both.

So, Kay and Smith have to cast a wide net, but also wanted to sure that those in the team worked well together.

Recently, former Boilermakers Lewis Jackson, A.J. Hammons and Kelsey Barlow announced they will play this year, joining former Boilermakers Evan Boudreaux, Jon Octeus and Jacquil Taylor, who played in the 20-team event in 2020. It is also hoped that center Isaac Haas will return for a second season.

"We really operate like a professional sports team for a short window of time," Kay said, who is facing a June 15 deadline to set his roster. The bracket will be announced on June 21.

Kay plans to have a mini-camp for the Men of Mackey beginning on July 19, and says that the returning players decided to come back because Smith, a full-time assistant men's basketball coach for fellow former Boilermaker Carson Cunningham at Incarnate Word in San Antonio, decided to return a coach.

"Ryne did a great job, and the guys appreciated him," Kay said. "That is a key piece moving forward."

And moving forward will be what Kay will be doing. Sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but moving forward just the same.

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