Meet Fort Worth’s newest basketball team, the Funk, preparing to play for $1 million
Bingo Merriex isn’t ready to hang up his basketball shoes. The competitive juices still flow even at 40 and almost two decades after his college basketball career ended at TCU.
“I know it sounds cliché, but I love playing. It’s just for the love of the game, man,” said Merriex, who graduated from TCU in 2003.
Merriex scored 1,318 points in his college career, playing his first three seasons under Billy Tubbs and his final season under Neil Dougherty. Since his college days, Merriex has had a number of professional stops in Europe and Asia.
But he’s excited to play again in the U.S. this summer. Merriex is part of the Fort Worth Funk, a team formed of mostly TCU alumni — players who graduated from 2003 to 2019 — set to compete in The Basketball Tournament next month.
The TBT, which started in 2014, is a 64-team event featuring college alumni and non-NBA-playing professionals in a single-elimination bracket. It’s a winner-take-all tournament with $1 million on the line.
The bracket will be revealed at noon Monday and the Funk are expected to be in the mix. The team is hosting a watch party that is open for all at Buffalo Bros in downtown Fort Worth from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
The Funk have been practicing at Game On in West Fort Worth. If selected, they’ll play in the Wichita Region July 16-20.
Along with Merriex, other former Frogs on the roster include Alex Robinson, JD Miller, Edric Dennis, Vladimir Brodziansky, Brandon Parrish, Dalton Dry, Trey Ziegler and Chris Washburn. Robinson is TCU’s all-time assist leader, while Brodziansky is the program’s all-time leader in blocks.
Merriex, Robinson, Brodziansky and Miller are all in the program’s 1,000-point club.
A few non-TCU players on the Funk include former North Crowley standout and OU Sooner Willie Warren; former Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) forward Jalen Henry; and former LSU big man Kavell Bigby Williams.
The team will be coached by TCU great Lee Nailon, who had a long professional career including six seasons in the NBA.
“We built this team and we’re here for one common goal — that’s to win it all,” said Nailon, who is tied for first in TCU history averaging 23.9 points a game.
“But we also want to build this up to be a family culture so every TCU player knows they’ve got a gym to work out at and a place to play more basketball every summer after they graduate.”
Every player on the roster, whether it’s Merriex, who graduated in 2003, or Robinson, who graduated in 2019, still believes there are more playing days ahead.
This is a chance for them to compete during the offseason and gain exposure with the tournament being broadcast on ESPN.
“No matter what happens, this will be great exposure,” said Parrish, an Arlington Seguin product who played in all 136 games of his college career.
“All of us know we can play. We’re just waiting for the right opportunity. One guy might be able to make something big of it whether we win or lose. It could open some doors for somebody and get some eyes on us that maybe weren’t already on us.”
Parrish has been playing in Europe since his college career with stops in England, Germany and Portugal. Robinson spent his first season after college playing in the NBA’s G League and last season in Vienna, Austria.
A player such as Dennis is simply hoping to get an opportunity somewhere. The COVID-19 pandemic shut down a number of professional leagues across the world, leaving several players with limited or no options.
“A lot of guys didn’t play because of COVID or they just weren’t good enough,” Nailon said. “But you can’t get discouraged. It only takes one team to like you. Whether it’s in Poland or the NBA or the G League, it just takes one team. With this platform, a lot of guys are going to be seen and maybe get a fresh start somewhere. Scouts will be watching this tournament and guys can show they can play at a high level.”
Why the Funk?
Nailon didn’t come up with the team name. Instead, he let the players decide what they wanted to be called.
As he said: “I’m the coach. I wanted the guys to come up with it.”
So Nailon anointed Robinson as the point person to decide the team name. Robinson has become the de facto “team captain” early on, so he started a group message to gather ideas.
In the end, the players settled on the Funk. Others such as Fort Worth Frogs or Fort Worth Stars were considered, but the Funk felt right.
“[Former TCU center] Aaron Durley, he came up with the Fort Worth Funk,” Robinson said. “We said, ‘Let’s do Funk.’”
After all, the city has a history of being called “Funky Town.”
As the Star-Telegram’s Bud Kennedy wrote several years ago, the city was first dubbed “Funky Fort Worth” in the 1980s by R&B and hip-hop performers. And in 2000, when Austin went with the rallying cry of “Keep Austin Weird,” Fort Worth’s quick response was “Keep Fort Worth Funky.”
Now it’s being embraced by Fort Worth’s newest basketball team, the “Funk” who hope to bring home $1 million. And, hey, a good showing by the Funk in the TBT may put Fort Worth’s Dickies Arena on the radar as a potential future host for the TBT.
“We do want to bring some notoriety and publicity to this area because there’s a lot of basketball talent,” Parrish said. “When people think about DFW, most think about Dallas. But Fort Worth, Arlington, TCU … we’re trying to bring notoriety to this part of the city and have a positive impact on the tournament.”
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