Former GU Players Talk about Being a Zag at Hoopfest 25


Mar 21, 2013; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kelly Olynyk (13) drives to the basket in the second half of the game against the Southern University Jaguars during the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at EnergySolutions Arena. Gonzaga won the game 64-58. Mandatory Credit: Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

On the eve of the 25th year of Hoopfest in Spokane, WA, the world’s largest outdoor 3 on 3 basketball competition, the men of Gonzaga University basketball program -including current NBA star Kelly Olynyk, Drew Barham, Mike Hart, Cory Violette, Casey Calvary, David Pendergraft, Dan Dickau and Matt Santangelo (and in his first year as Executive Director of Hoopfest) – gathered on the stage in the auditorium at Lewis & Clark high school to talk about what it was like to play basketball for Gonzaga University.

Hosted by local sportscaster Dennis Patchin, the evening was interesting, meaningful and light hearted, particularly as the “old guys” traded friendly banter with the “young guys”. All of the former Gonzaga players were sincerely grateful for the support and interest of the Spokane community in the program and in them as players, they enjoyed the camaraderie of the team and learning to become part of the team. Drew Barham and Dan Dickau in particular mentioned not merely being a member of a team of 12 individuals with their own agenda, and the standards they all were expected to live up to in order to avoid not being “that team” a team that failed to win the WCC championship or qualify for the NCAA tournament.

David Pendergraft has the distinction as the only former Gonzaga player to have won the entire Hoopfest tournament. Kelly Olynyk was drafted in the first round of the 2013 NBA Draft and is playing for the Boston Celtics, Dan Dickau spent 6 seasons playing in the NBA and like 6 other players on the stage, resides in Spokane. Cory Violette became a father last week, Casey Calvary described the mechanics of making a TV commercial featuring one of his legendary shots (the commercial was filmed on Steve Stockton’s outdoor basketball court) and Dan Dickau described meeting one of his idols John Stockton for the first time at a pick-up game – (“Hi, I’m John Stockton”….. “well, duh”! was Dan’s quiet thought.)

The guys are all still there for each other. When Matt Santangelo called to ask these guys to participate in this event, all of them said yes without hesitation. David Pendergraft still houses former teammates when they return to Spokane. Kelly Olynyk, Mike Hart and Drew Barham described sharing every meal with all 12 guys for an entire year (and being denied pizza at the end of a pickup game they lost.) They play pickup basketball games with the old guys and new guys on a regular basis, sometimes drawing the ire of the coaching staff who have watched games become uncomfortably competitive. There is no sympathy for the underdog, the Zags quickly learn, and they are infused with the winning ethic no matter who the opponent is.

When Drew Barham visited Gonzaga from Memphis, they quickly cued him up in a pick-up game. As is customary, the rest of the players gave the ball to Drew as much as possible to see what he could do. The Gonzaga players were very impressed when Drew drained shot after shot no matter who he was matched up against. Drew was similarly impressed to play with a group of guys who were unselfish about sharing the ball with him. The match was made and the rest is winning history.

Feb 16, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Mike Hart (30) controls the ball against the San Francisco Dons during the first half at War Memorial Gym. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In response to a question as to why he is not currently playing professional basketball, Mike Hart described his experience playing overseas in Germany last year. The player that actually watched Gonzaga’s annual season opener “Kraziness in the Kennel” his first year as a student, then proceeded to walk on the following year, make the team and become one of best “glue guys” in 2013, Hart quickly realized that he was not ready to grind it out in Europe to achieve the next level of success in professional basketball. He said he was content with what he achieved in his college career in Gonzaga. He currently resides in Portland.

The players described all of the other sports they played as kids before settling down to focus on basketball often times late in high school. They encouraged kids to do the same, to resist specializing too early to avoid injury and overuse of the same muscle groups. A number of the players played different sports year round, in addition to basketball, football, soccer, baseball, golf, lacrosse, track and field, even rugby (Kelly Olynyk.)

Playing basketball was always fun for this group of guys, it never seemed like work to them. The older guys at Gonzaga actively helped the younger guys on the team acclimate to the hard work, playing as hard as you can every day, whether it is a practice or a game, being willing to sacrifice yourself for the sake of the team, joining the family and becoming a member of the community, all of which comes with the territory as a member of the Gonzaga basketball team. The “old guys” encouraged the “young guys” to enjoy every minute of the experience because it goes so fast.