Maybe it was easy to be asleep on this guy. If you caught Team Brotherly Love on ESPN in last season’s TBT — The Basketball Tournament — and you saw all the recognizable Philly names, maybe you weren’t paying much attention to this one guy. Except, this guy kept making basketball plays.
Maybe you never saw Novar Gadson play high school ball at Bartram, or in college at Rider. Or professionally in Italy or Belgium or Hungary or Lithuania or, for the last four seasons, in Argentina.
The Basketball Tournament is back in July, scheduled to be the first live hoops to hit your screen. The idea that a summer tournament can’t produce high-level, even efficient hoops … guess again.
The TBT concept, you might remember, is basically winner-take-all, with various big-time college alumni getting together (Ohio State, Marquette, Syracuse, to note recent strong teams.) Team Brotherly Love is a little different, mostly players from around here, a strong Temple tilt to it, with a base of overseas pros who often get together in the summer.
Gadson may not have the name recognition of former Drexel star Samme Givens or former Temple stars Ramone Moore or Khalif Wyatt or former Creighton star Maurice Watson Jr., but he’s right in the middle of this group, a double-digit scorer in last year’s tournament, part of Team Brotherly Love’s beating heart, a cocaptain with Moore.
When Team Brotherly Love reached the quarterfinals of last year’s tournament, Gadson was one of the consistent scorers, a starter as a version of this group knocked off the Syracuse alumni last year in Syracuse to reach the quarters.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year’s TBT field will be smaller, 24 teams instead of 64, the whole thing played in Columbus, Ohio, the idea being having it all inside a quarantine bubble. It starts July 4 and goes to a July 14 title game, where $1 million will be on the line, instead of $2 million as it was last year.
Team Brotherly Love might still be under the radar, but it will show up in Ohio with confidence.
“I just see a lot of interchangeable parts," Gadson said of what makes this group tick. “It’s tough to guard us. We don’t have perfect rotation, but it’s close to perfect. It’s not one guy being dominant.”
Gadson lives in Delaware now, and during the pandemic, he turned his garage into a gym, with a squat bar, pull-up bar, bench press. “I turned the walls black also. It looked like it was a grind.”
Team Brotherly Love teammates would come down, knock on his door, or just text to open the garage door so they could get in there. The core of the team first played one summer in what was called the Ball Up tournament at Imhotep Charter. That evolved into this.
Gadson, a 6-foot-7 wing forward who averaged 15 points a game this season in Argentina, describes his game as being “the do-everything kind of guy. I can rebound, can shoot, can pass. You can’t take something away from me.”
Until the coronavirus came along. Gadson will always have his own 2020 pandemic stories. His tale goes back to when he came home this winter to see his baby son born. He got back to Argentina in early March — “I played in a game right off the plane, that night, after traveling 14-15 hours. They’d lost three straight games so they rushed me back.”
He was off that night, he said, missing layups, that kind of thing. “But I actually hit the game-winner," Gadson said.
He practiced for the next few days, then there was a knock on his door.
“Because I had traveled abroad, I was quarantined in the house for 20 days," Gadson said. “They would bring me food, bring me jugs of water.”
By the time, he was allowed out, the league was shutting down because of the pandemic. It took Gadson another eight days to get home.
Although Gadson seems like a textbook case of a ballplayer who has continually improved his game over the years, he started at a high level, averaged double figures all four seasons at Rider from 2008 to 2012, after breaking Joe Bryant’s scoring record at Bartram (a record broken soon after by Tyrone Garland.)
He just started late: “I started playing sophomore year. I didn’t touch a basketball before then. I knew some of these guys since I was like 9 years old. But I didn’t play.”
What got him started?
“I got in trouble for truancy," Gadson said. “They were going to arrest me.”
The way to avoid that, Gadson said, was to start playing ball. He gives credit to Tahar Sutton, Terrance Durham, and Lateef Geen for getting him started with the Bartram Blazers AAU program.
He describes himself as “super, super quiet” growing up, but when Mike Ringgold, another Team Brotherly Love mainstay, graduated from Rider a year ahead of Gadson, it was time for him to step up, realizing that being quiet could contribute to a loss if he wasn’t holding himself or teammates accountable.
“He’s the type of guy who likes to work on his craft," Ramone Moore, who played in Australia this season, said of Gadson. “He’s determined to be the player he is today. He also does a lot of stuff behind the scenes. Working, swimming, bike-riding. It’s not a coincidence when you see Novar out there going hard.”
Secret sauce to this team?
“We all get along," Moore said. “A lot of people rave about our team chemistry. We don’t have a lot of big names. But we’re holding down Philly on our side.”
Shannon Givens, Semaj Inge, Wayne Marshall, and Makal Stibbins are other local guys on the team. Khalif Wyatt is a newcomer, but an obvious fit, his teammates say.
“One of the most efficient guys I’ve been around," Gadson said of the former Temple star, who signed with a French team in January. “You can’t speed him up. I tried.”
Staying out in Ohio if they make another run will be tough for Gadson, he said, with a baby boy at home. But he sees the worth of this endeavor.
“The chemistry and the camaraderie, I’ve never been around a group like this in my life," Gadson said. “That’s why we look so good. We’re together.”
Reminder, don’t fall asleep on this guy.