Hoopfest is the best weekend of the year, but ever wonder what Hoopfesters are up to the other days of the year? Here’s Gonzaga sophomore CJ Michael’s story.
While CJ Michael’s peers at Gonzaga University all headed back to school in Spokane this January, Michael is at home in Tualatin, Ore., a suburb of Portland, where his Hoopfest bracket from last summer is displayed on his wall. In February, the college sophomore will leave U.S. borders for New Zealand and the opportunity to be an exchange student for a semester at the University of Auckland.
Michael is far more excited than cautious about going to New Zealand, with the exception of one small fact: he’ll have to skip Hoopfest this year.
The University of Auckland functions on a different academic cycle than what is traditional for the U.S.; while his teammates take the streets of Spokane this June, Michael will be taking final exams much to his dismay. He’s already tried to call the school and move them up. Likewise, he thought maybe flying directly to Spokane instead of home to Portland would work, but he still wouldn’t be able to make it on time.
Now a fanatic for it, when Michael was a senior in high school, he had never even heard of Hoopfest.
“One of my friends just asked me, ‘hey, have you ever heard about this tournament in Spokane?’” he said.
Having just made the decision to attend Gonzaga in the fall, Michael had no idea his new city was home to the largest 3-on-3 street ball tournament on earth.
Grabbing a few of his best friends and teammates since fifth grade, Michael decided he wanted to visit Spokane one more time and he especially wanted to see what this so-called Hoopfest really was. The squad showed up thinking this was a fun, pick-up ball atmosphere; the type of thing that is a fun weekend, but doesn’t amount to much.
Michael and company were sorely mistaken.
“The first year all of us really liked how into it everyone was,” Michael said. “We loved seeing how many people were in the streets, all for the game of basketball. Parents were there with their little kids and we wished our parents had brought us years ago. Even though some courts have man holes in the middle or are on unleveled ground, it’s just the game of basketball. Everyone just loves basketball.”
Michael goes home to Oregon for the summers, where he juggles a job and an internship. In addition to coming back to Spokane for Hoopfest, he finds time to travel and enjoy himself. Michael capitalizes on any chance he gets to see the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim play, so travels to Seattle when they play the Mariners and hopes this will be his 15th consecutive summer of visiting Angel Stadium in Anaheim to catch a game.
While in New Zealand, Michael will have to take a hiatus from his vibrant role within the Gonzaga community. He’s a member of Alpha Kappa Psi, the professional co-ed business fraternity, and works as advertising account executive for Gonzaga’s student publications. Michael is working toward a degree in finance, operations and supply chain management with a minor entrepreneurial leadership. He served as a project manager for Gonzaga’s New Venture Lab, a student run organization that partners capable students (the project managers) with local entrepreneurs for eight weeks in an effort to assist the development of the business and give the student valuable experience.
For many students, college is an easy time to be self-absorbed, but Michael has made an extensive effort to make a difference in the world around him with his time and talent. He serves as a mentor with Gonzaga Athletes Mentoring for Excellence (GAME) and spends time each week mentoring community kids through his passion of sports and recreation. Last spring break he went on a volunteer trip called Mission: Possible, also a GU program, to St. Louis. Back home in Tualatin, Michael has volunteered his time to coach fourth and fifth grade basketball and baseball teams.
Michael knows he will experience an entirely new culture and traditions in New Zealand this spring. That’s intentional. While many students from Gonzaga study abroad at the school’s campus in Florence, Italy, Michael said he wanted more of a challenge, to go somewhere different and completely on his own.
But undoubtedly, he is packing his basketball shoes. The court makes for great common ground among strangers.
“I’ll join as many intramural basketball teams over there as I can,” Michael said enthusiastically. “Every country has a different style of playing, so I’m excited to experience that and learn the slang and the culture [of the game] there.”
With no Hoopfest this year, the ball is in his teammate’s hands to defend their bracket title from last year, but Michael is already planning to be back next year and every year following.
“We agreed we want to make it to Spokane as long as we’re physically able to,” Michael said. “We want to do this every year until we’re too old to do it. We may be done with college and have jobs in different states, but we somehow want to make it back to Hoopfest.”