BALTIMORE — Peter Frates can no longer talk, but he can see and he is watching “The Basketball Tournament’’ that concludes with The Finals at Coppin State.
The Cinderella story of the event is called Team Challenge ALS, the only one of the original 64 teams that didn’t include individual names on the backs of their jerseys.
The name “Frates’’adorns the backs of all Team ALS jerseys, honoring the former Boston College baseball player.
After posting four straight upsets over higher-seeded clubs, Team Challenge ALS is one win away from the winner-take-all $2 million grand prize as it faces two-time defending champion Overseas Elite.
Unlike most squads in the Carmelo Anthony-sponsored event, not all of the money is headed to the players and coaches.
With one more victory, $250,000 of the purse goes to Frates’ medical expenses and the ALS Association. Frates, 32, was diagnosed five years ago with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He became one of the originators of the famed “Ice Bucket Challenge’’ — the social-media phenomenon that raised $220 million for the fatal disease that killed Gehrig and has no cure.
The team was organized by former Boston College wing Sean Marshall, Frates’ roommate in college. Frates attended Marshall’s BC basketball games and Marshall attended Frates’ baseball games.
Marshall, who returned from a two-week calf strain to score 21 points Tuesday, called around, recruiting players, selling ALS as the pitch for extra motivation to the month-long summer tournament featuring former NBA players, including former Pistons draft pick Austin Daye, and Division I standouts.
Marshall, who played a season for the Westchester Knicks, believes raising awareness for ALS has bonded the club and helped given them its “heart, desire, fight.’’
“This team plays so hard and I think it’s because we’re playing for a cause,’’ Marshall said after Tuesday’s double-overtime victory over the Ohio State alumi squad. “It’s a good group of guys and that was most important thing going through the recruiting process was bringing in high character guys. As they did their own research on it and saw how terrible the disease was, it was easy to jump on board.”
Frates’ father, John, came from Boston to attend Tuesday’s semifinal and was asked by Marshall to give a pregame pep talk in the locker room. His mother, Nancy, will be there for Thursday’s finals. She has been an active member of the ALS Foundation. Peter’s condition has worsened to the point at which he was unable to make any of the games. In early July, the wheelchair-bound Frates was hospitalized.
“I told John I wanted him to talk to the team before the game,’’ Marshall said. “He sees what it’s like every day. I’ve tried to convey the message to the team doing my own research but to have John in the locker room telling stories about what Pete has to go through in every-day life, the team had to hear that. Guys needed to understand.’’
The ALS club has become the sentimental favorite over Overseas Elite powerhouse, which captured the event in 2015 and 2016.
“With a new team you never know what to expect, but Marshall built this team the right way,’’ the tournament founder John Mugars told The Post. “They built a team purely for that team’s goal to win.
Challenge ALS has that singular focus and plays extremely hard because it’s for a cause and it helps them mentally.’’
Across the tournament’s four years, there have been four clubs that made a charity a primary goal, including Sideline Cancer that donates money to pancreatic cancer. And Thursday’s finalist, Overseas Elite has one standout player, Kyle Fogg, donating some of his earnings to “Pencils for Promise.’’
There is something about Lou Gehrig’s Disease that tugs at the heartstrings. In 2014, during the Ice Bucket Challenge rage, Frates wrote to the Boston Globe: “I want the 100th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s speech to be a celebration of a courageous man who became the poster boy for a disease with a cure, not a cruel reminder of how nothing has changed in a century.”