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Merriweather appreciates how NCAA Tournament opened doors for him

Joe Avento • May 29, 2020 at 7:00 PM

A.J. Merriweather says he felt bad for the East Tennessee State players who didn’t get a chance to play in this year’s canceled NCAA Tournament.

He certainly appreciates what March Madness did for him.

“It’s unfortunate for those guys,” said Merriweather, who was on ETSU’s 2017 NCAA team. “You never know about the team, how far they could have gone.”

Merriweather then thought about what might have happened to him if he didn’t get the exposure the NCAA Tournament gave him. The funny thing was, it wasn’t the game that got Merriweather noticed. It was a practice.

As the Bucs were preparing to play Florida in Orlando, they finished up practice with a dunk line. Merriweather’s last effort was so spectacular that coach Steve Forbes waved off the rest of the workout as the team whooped and hollered.

Video of that dunk went viral and got the 6-foot-2 Merriweather into the national Slam Dunk Championship, where he was the most spectacular performer in the event until the finals, when he couldn’t pull off his dunks.

It wasn’t the runner-up finish that got him recognized. The originality and athleticism he showed in the earlier rounds — getting numerous perfect scores from the judges — got him his job with the Harlem Globetrotters, with whom he has played three years and is nicknamed “Money.”

“The NCAA Tournament is really what kicked off my professional career,” he said. “I think about that sometimes, what would have happened if I didn’t get to go.”

Merriweather said he’s still thankful for his college coaches and how much they helped him grow as a player during his ETSU days.

“I thank my coaches when I see them for putting me in that position,” he said. “I always thank them, Forbes and (Murry) Bartow, for putting me in that position. I had to perform, but they gave me the opportunity to be there.”

Merriweather might get to see some of his former teammates if they meet up in The Basketball Tournament, a $2 million winner-take-all summer tournament. Many former ETSU players are on the Southern Smokies while Merriweather and his former ETSU teammate Desonta Bradford will play on their hometown Jackson UnderDawgs.

The Smokies reportedly wanted Merriweather, but he said he had to go with his hometown. He’s played with the Jackson team before.

“I was kind of torn,” he said. “But it’s my hometown. I don’t know if my hometown would like me playing for a different city with a different jersey.”

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