Local teams officially in TBT

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BENNINGTON >> The votes are in and Bennington will have connections to two different teams playing in The Basketball Tournament.

The event, now in its third year, gives 64 teams a chance at a $2 million first prize. The organizers announced the first 60 teams that will have been officially accepted on Wednesday. The last four will come from who raises the most money for the Big Brothers/Big Sisters charity.

Armored Athlete, led by general manager and Mount Anthony grad A.J. Mahar, will be in the tournament for the second season after reaching the Sweet 16 last time.

The team is coached by current Southern Vermont College men's basketball head coach Dan Englestad.

This year, a new team, OPI, who is being led by local coaches Kelly Kennedy and Larry Andrews and Mount Anthony graduate Kyle Callanan, also made the field.

OPI stands for Owen P. Iannotti, a former MAU football player who died in a car accident last summer. Callanan has said that if they win the tournament, $50,000 of the winnings would go toward the scholarship fund set up in Iannotti's memory.

"It's great we got accepted, the town really did it for us in the final two days," Callanan said. "We got a great push, more than 1,000 votes just from Bennington. We're going to go and try to win this money for the organization."

In the 64-team regional bracket, fan support is most important. The top 11 teams in the four regions — Northeast, South, Midwest and West — automatically are entered.

Armored Athlete ended up fourth in the Midwest and the only three ahead of them include teams of alumni from major basketball powerhouses like Kansas State, Kentucky and Michigan State.

OPI was close to the bottom of the top 10, with a surge in voting at the end, they ended up seventh in the South.

"Most people don't think of Vermont for basketball, but we're out here, two teams in this thing, playing against the best teams in the country," Callanan said.

The Armored Athlete has most of its players coming from Midwestern schools, such as Indiana. One of the team's boosters is NBA player and Indiana alum Cody Zeller. As a pro, he's ineligible to play, but he put out a video supporting Armored Athlete.

The bulk of OPI's roster are players from Armstrong State University in Georgia, where Callanan played his college ball.

"It's been very busy, I've been working out trying to go overseas for a pro career and trying to get the team together," Callanan said.

Play will take place in four regions before the semifinals and final will be held in New York City at Fordham University.

And if Armored Athlete and OPI were to play each other, it would be in the final.

"It would be the best thing ever if we got there, I'd love to see them in the championship," Callanan said.

For more information on The Basketball Tournament, go to thetournament.com.


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