I've had the distinct pleasure of attending all 16 Mid-American Conference Men's Basketball Tournaments that have been held in Cleveland, Ohio. The MAC offices moved to Cleveland from Toledo in the fall of 1999, and Gund Arena (now called Quicken Loans Arena) was named the host of the men's tournament.
This was a step up for the MAC, as it gave players, coaches, cheerleaders, pep bands and fans a chance to experience MAC basketball in an elite, big-time, NBA venue. Cleveland was a neutral site that was situated near the center of the MAC's geographical footprint. But, that still didn't stop Northern Illinois, Ball State and several of the Michigan schools from complaining that Cleveland favored Kent State and Akron, as well as their fan bases.
The very first year, Cleveland fell in love with the tournament and college basketball. After years of suffering with the Cavaliers and watching the half-hearted effort that often defines NBA basketball, Northeast Ohio fans were suddenly treated to close games, overtime games, buzzer-beaters, upsets and most of all, effort and passion from college kids.
The Cleveland years of the tournament have seen what some might call the golden years of MAC basketball. The Kent State teams of the early 2000's were so talented and dominant. They would win back-to-back MAC Tournament titles and advance to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2001.
There have been many great MAC players that have taken the stage in Cleveland during the tournament. Below are those that make up my All Cleveland MAC Tournament Team from 2000 through 2015. Remember, this is just my opinion, but I'd love to hear your opinions, so make sure you chime in in the comments section below.
ALL CLEVELAND TEAM (2000-2016)
Trevor Huffman - G, Kent State
The best player on the best team the Cleveland years have seen to date. Only two-time tournament MVP during the the last 16 years. Led team to an Elite 8 appearance and nearly a Final Four. Seemed to deliver every time the Flashes need a big bucket.
D.J. Cooper - G, Ohio
Led Bobcats to a MAC championship in 2012 and was named the tournament MVP. This thin left-hander pushed the tempo from the point guard position and was a deadly 3-point shooter. Led Bobcats to second place in 2013 as he was named to the All-Tournament Team for the second consecutive year.
Tim Pollitz - F, Miami
At 6'5", Pollitz was an undersized big man that in reality played center for a small Miami team. Averaged 22.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg and shot 75.6 percent from the field during Redhawks' MAC Championship run in 2007, and was named tournament MVP.
Antonio Gates - F, Kent State
Future NFL Hall of Famer played only two seasons at Kent State, but they were memorable. Gates was a key piece on the Golden Flashes' 2002 championship that was loaded with stars. He had a sweet left handed jumper and played much bigger than his 6'4" frame. Used his body well for position...a skill that would serve him well later as a tight-end.
Mike Williams - C, Western Michigan
This stretch big man had the skills that made him unique for the MAC. After being named MAC Player of the Year in 2004, he led the Broncos to the tournament championship. He scored 28 points in the championship game and hit a late 3-pointer to seal the victory.
Andrew Mitchell - G, Kent State
Could have been tournament MVP in 2001 and 2002 if not for his teammate. Every great team needs a point guard that makes them go and Mitchell was that for the record setting Flashes under head coach Gary Waters. He could score, but his main job was to get the ball to his talented teammates.
David Kool - G, Western Michigan
Hard-nosed player who could score on anybody. Just missed leading the Broncos to the championship game in 2010 after dropping 39 points on Akron in the semi-finals. Still remember the daggers he delivered during that semi-final game and watching the jaw-dropping reaction by the fans.
Brandon Hunter - F, Ohio
Was All MAC Tournament First-Team in 2001 as a sophomore and again in 2003 his senior year, after which he was selected by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the NBA Draft.
Mike Scott - F, Kent State
Skilled big man that helped Golden Flashes continue their dominance in late 2000's. Led Kent to tournament championship in 2006 and 2008 while being named All MAC Tournament First-Team both years.
Chris Kaman - C, Central Michigan
Led the Chippewas to a tournament championship in 2003, while being named tournament MVP. Big man broke mold of MAC as a guard league. He's in his ninth year in the NBA, now currently with the Portland Trailblazers.
Armon Bassett - G, Ohio
Led Bobcats to 2010 championship while being named tournament MVP. Scored the most points of any player ever in an individual MAC Tournament (2010) with 116, including 38 against Kent State.
Jason Grunkemeyer - G, Miami
He gets the nod here solely based on his incredible buzzer beaters in back-to-back years. His half court heave knocked out #1 seed Bowling Green in 2000, the tournament's first year in Cleveland. His long three also knocked out Ohio in 2001 semi-finals.
Justin Greene - F, Kent State
Skilled big man that was named All MAC Tournament First-Team in 2011 and 2012. His teams never won the tournament but they lost a heart breaker in OT to Akron in 2011 final.
Demetrius Treadwell - F, Akron
Big "Tree" was a fixture in the middle for the Zips as they won the 2013 championship and he was named Tournament MVP. Unfortunately, he was suspended from the team for his senior season in 2014 and never played again.
Jerimiah Wood - C, Akron
Named All MAC Tournament First-Team in 2007 and 2008, but his Zips weren't able to hoist the trophy. Miami's half-court buzzer-beater knocked them out in the championship game in 2007 and Kent State beat them in the final game in 2008.
Turner Battle (Buffalo), David Brown (Western Michigan), Xavier Ford (Buffalo), DeAndre Haynes (Kent State), Nick Kellogg (Ohio), Nate Linhart (Akron), Zeke Marshall (Akron), Keith Mcleod (Bowling Green), Haminn Quaintance (Kent State), Shaun Stonerook (Ohio), Kevin Warzynski (Kent State), Mitchell Watt (Buffalo), Leon Williams (Ohio).
Charlie Coles - Miami (2000-2012)
Coached 12 years in Cleveland during the MAC Tournament and his teams were always a hard out, no matter what their record was. Charlie always had his team peaking at tournament time and opposing coaches didn't look forward to playing them. Won the tournament in 2007 as a fourth seed for his only championship during these years. His Redhawks also lost in the finals as a ninth seed in 2000. Charlie was also the best quote ever in the MAC media room.
Jim Christian (Kent State), Dan Dakich (Bowling Green), Keith Dambrot (Akron), Geno Ford (Kent State), Steve Hawkins (Western Michigan), Gary Waters (Kent State), Reggie Witherspoon (Buffalo).