Basketball. Journey. Community.
BASKETBALL. JOURNEY. COMMUNITY.
Basketball really became the passion. It became the lifestyle and I couldn't go a day without it.
Matt Santangelo always knew he was meant to play basketball. It was all he ever wanted to do from the time he was a toddler, staring out of the window of his South Portland home watching his brothers play in the driveway, all the way into his 30’s. “I loved going out and shooting by myself. I loved imagining the creativity behind the game. I loved the imagination. I was just this little guy shooting around and figuring things out.”
Yet it wasn’t until middle school that he knew he had to pursue his dream as far as it would take him. “It wasn't until 7th grade that I started playing basketball year round and it really became the passion. It became the lifestyle and I couldn't go a day without it.” Matt explained. “Basketball, in a lot of sense, was your meal ticket out of a bad situation. People were literally playing for their lives. For me, it felt a lot like that.”
Matt went on to play high school basketball; making the varsity squad his sophomore year. He was already being recruited by major universities early in his high school career until finally choosing to attend and play ball for Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. “I’ll never forget when Coach Fitzgerald and Coach Few were in our living room and they sat there and said ‘No one is bigger than their program. No one. But if I had a basketball, I would give it to you and say we’re going to go where you’re going to take us.’” Choking up, Matt said Coach Fitzgerald and Coach Few concluded their visit with three important ideas, “They told me, ‘You’re going to get a chance to play. You’re going to get a chance to win. You’re going to get a chance to lead.’ After that, I was hook, line and sinker. I was in.”
After an incredible contribution to the Gonzaga Basketball program capping off a great four years with a ticket to the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight, Matt prepared for the NBA draft. With friends and family around, Matt never hears his named called. Matt wasn’t drafted. “Basically it boils down to I wasn't good enough to play in the NBA because if I was, I would have. There's no regret. I don't carry a lot of baggage with that. I just gave it my all and I wasn't good enough.”
He took this lesson in stride and set his sights to teams outside of the United States. He ended up playing for teams in Greece, Spain, Italy, Russia and much more. He helped teams succeed. He became a leader when he needed to be. Yet, at 29, he began to get burned out and knew he needed to be home with his wife and child. He knew he had to take care of his team at home to succeed in life after basketball.
Matt quickly jumped into careers dabbling a bit in insurance sales and financial advisory. Yet. something was missing. That’s when Hoopfest came calling. “Hoopfest was already the greatest of its kind when I came on board. There's two ways to look at it: one is don't mess it up which is a tremendous amount of pressure and scary or two, which is the way I chose to look at it, here are the keys to the Ferrari. Go have fun with it.”
Matt is now in his fourth year as the Executive Director of Hoopfest and he knows this is where he’s supposed to be. To Matt, it’s about leadership, it’s about working with a team, and it’s always been about the sport he grew up loving. “It's really rare that at 40 years old, that I still work in basketball and it pays my livelihood.” Pausing, Matt left us with one important idea, “You have to enjoy the journey. You absolutely have to enjoy the journey."