For the multitude of Gonzaga basketball faithful, this year’s historic NCAA Tournament Final Four berth meant a lot to the Spokane community. We at Hoopfest are proud of the Zags and their tremendous run to the national championship game.
Spokane Hoopfest is the largest 3on3 basketball tournament in the world. Gonzaga basketball played in the national championship game. What does that say about Spokane?
“A case can be made that Spokane is Basketball City, USA,” Hoopfest Executive Director, Matt Santangelo says. “Very few communities could pull off two phenomena like Spokane Hoopfest and Gonzaga basketball, which were both created locally and from scratch. It is a great accomplishment, but an even greater testament to the spirit of the local Spokane community.”
For Matt, the first Final Four appearance in program history held a special significance. Matt was the point guard of the 1999-2000 Bulldogs team that broke through to the Elite Eight and supplanted the Zags as college basketball’s Cinderella story, and just like Hoopfest, the program has continued to bring the national spotlight to Spokane.
All these years later, he has watched as the Gonzaga teams have elevated the program. The past three years, Matt and the Hoopfest team have worked together to elevate Hoopfest as well.
As the Zags gripped a commanding lead in their Elite Eight win over Xavier, Matt, blindsided by emotion, soaked in the significance of this moment for Gonzaga’s program and the city of Spokane.
It was the culmination for a program which has been building national prominence for 20 years, and a special moment for Matt, who stays connected to his former college program by moonlighting as a radio analyst for Gonzaga men’s basketball games for the IMG Network.
“It was completely overwhelming and humbling,” he recalls. “I could barely hold it together on the radio broadcast. I’m so proud and excited for the coaching staff, the group of guys and all of Zag Nation. The amount of folks that reached out … it’s just really, really humbling to be a part of something so great.”
Matt sees the direct line of comparison between the success of Gonzaga basketball and Spokane Hoopfest.
“The common tie is through the game of basketball itself,” Matt explains. “The NCAA Tournament is for the top collegiate players to go compete on the biggest stage. Hoopfest is for everyone else who loves the game of basketball.”
As the Gonzaga program ascended to become a “mid-major powerhouse,” the Best Basketball Weekend on Earth garnered national attention, as well. Both Hoopfest and Gonzaga thrust Spokane into the spotlight and the city has flourished. When you have a program as successful as the Gonzaga men’s basketball team and you pair that with the largest 3on3 tournament in the world, people want to come to Spokane and witness great basketball for themselves!
So whether it’s mid-January or end of June, Spokane is home to some impressive hoops. While this season has been especially impressive to local Spokanites and Zag fans around the world, Matt and the rest of the Hoopfest team are excited about the future of Gonzaga, Hoopfest and the Spokane community. Now that’s a winning trio, don’t you think?