While there are only 4 conferences represented at the Final 4 (Big 10/Big 12/Big East/MVC), all 32 of them will have a presence in San Antonio at the inaugural 3X3U National Championship as the top seniors in the nation spend 3 days this weekend competing against each other in a 3-on-3 tournament. The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee decides which 68 teams will play for a title, but since these seniors have exhausted their eligibility the 3X3U Player Selection Committee will decide which ones get to compete for a prize pool of $100,000. HoopsHD’s Jon Teitel got to chat with former Gonzaga star/current Player Selection Committee member Matt Santangelo about his Elite 8 run in 1999 and why these players deserve to be paid.
In the 1998 WCC tourney as a player at Gonzaga you drove the length of the court and made a 3-PT shot at the buzzer to clinch a 1-PT OT win over Loyola Marymount: where does that rank among the highlights of your career, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterward? We were the #1 seed in the tourney but it took that shot to beat the #8 seed. 1 of my childhood friends (Ime Udoka, now an assistant to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio) was behind the basket when I made it: he was not yelling or cheering after my shot went in but just had a little smirk on his face! Of course I was ecstatic, but you can make the argument that the game never should have been that close. We ended up in the NIT after losing to San Francisco in the title game.
In the 1999 NCAA tourney you made the Elite 8 before losing to eventual champ UConn: what is the key to winning games in March? For us it was the huge sense of urgency: we bought into the “win or go home” mentality and played with a chip on our shoulder. We had never been on that stage so we did not know any better and just played like we always had. We had a lot of confidence and wanted to prove to the world that we were a good program.
At the 1999 World University Games in Spain you played for team USA: what did it mean to you to win a gold medal, and which of your teammates impressed you the most (Kenyon Martin/Michael Redd/other)? My college head coach (Dan Monson) was the assistant to team USA head coach Oliver Purnell so it was cool to have him there as we set the stage for an exciting senior year. I played well and tied the record at the time for the most threes in a single game. I remember 1 alley-oop from Erick Barkley to Kenyon that covered about ¾ of the court: Kenyon caught the ball in mid-air and then turned 180 degrees before dunking it. I roomed with Kenyon, Pete Mickeal (his teammate at Cincinnati), and Mark Madsen (whose Stanford team we beat to get to the Sweet 16 a few months earlier), so it was a fun mix. I enjoyed Kenyon both on and off the court: he was an enforcer but a nice guy. North Carolina’s Brendan Haywood was fantastic, as was Duke’s Chris Carrawell: so many funny/enjoyable people.
Mark Few was named Gonzaga’s head coach before your senior season: what was he like as a rookie, and could you have ever imagined that he would become so successful? He actually recruited me and the other guards out of high school. The younger staff wondered why we did not schedule bigger opponents, and after that we started to play great teams like Michigan State/Kansas. When Coach Few took over we had 5 seniors/2 juniors back from our Elite 8 run so we felt good about our success from the previous year but returned with some fire to prove to everybody that we were not a fluke. He is the same man in terms of being humble/sarcastic but now there is an aura that did not exist back then. He is straight humble pie and very accessible.
Last week the Bulldogs made the Sweet 16 before losing to Florida State: how far did you think they would go this month? Last fall if you had said that they would make the Sweet 16 after losing so much talent from last year’s team, I think most people would have been happy. When we returned to the NCAA tourney in 2000 the year after we made the Elite 8 we were prepared for all of the things like travel/media/etc., and I felt that this year’s team was similar. I did not realize that Killian Tillie was hurt until the game tipped off, and while Rui Hachimura is a difficult match-up off the bench it really thinned out the rotation to have him in the starting lineup. When you add in Florida State’s great length/depth, I think it was a perfect storm of obstacles and from the beginning of the game after the fell behind I felt that FSU had the momentum. However, I do not look at the season as anything but a success: 20 consecutive years in the NCAA Tournament and 4 consecutive trips to the Sweet 16. GU was not even picked to win the WCC, but they did!
You currently work as the executive director of the Spokane Hoopfest Association: what is your signature event? It is really unique: we are a non-profit in charge of the world’s biggest 3-on-3 tourney. We bring in 6000 teams from all over the world and last year we had players from 43 states/6 countries. We have 7 staff and 3000 volunteers: it is humbling to see all of the passion/energy that goes on behind the scenes. We have programs for young athletes in Spokane and are the voice of basketball in our community. It is a fun/dynamic/challenging job.
This weekend is the 1st-ever 3X3U tournament in San Antonio featuring teams of 4 seniors with 1 team from each of the 32 D-1 conferences: how did you 1st get involved, and how have you enjoyed being 1 of 18 members of the selection committee? There is a ton of momentum for 3-on-3 basketball: FIBA has a presence in that world and last summer the IOC announced that it is becoming an Olympic sport. There is a lot of merit to this style of play and looking to Hoopfest as a resource is natural. We have built a lot of credibility over the past 29 years and it was an honor to be included/involved. I think the game itself will be great: I worked with Intersport about what rules to adopt and what style of play will be best for high-level athletes who are used to 5-on-5.
It is a half-court game featuring a 12-second shot clock: what kind of team will excel in this format, and who is the best team on paper? You need 3 guys who can handle the ball. It is fast and is its own brand of basketball so it will involve high IQ. You cannot just pound it inside to a big man or stay outside all day and shoot threes: you need to do a little of everything at each position. I do not know who will be good but I think that the WCC will end up with a good team. I think someone like West Virginia G Jevon Carter will be fantastic but the style of play is such an equalizer that I do not think the Power 5 schools will be the favorites.
There is prize money of $1000/team for each win through the semifinals and then $50,000 for champs: what do you say to people who question whether there should be any prize money? If there was no money in it then I would agree they should not get paid, but since there is a lot of money involved in college basketball I think that you should pay the talent. There are a lot of jobs lost if there are no players (such as referees) and the seniors are on the verge of the next step in their basketball journey. I think it ups the level of intensity/urgency so it will be a very competitive environment rather than just an exhibition. At Hoopfest we play for the pride of Championship t-shirts(!) but if their eligibility is over then they deserve a chance to make some money from the game.
The Ivy League 4-man squad has 2 players from Penn and 1 each from Princeton/Dartmouth: what is Princeton G Amir Bell going to do when the clock is ticking down and there is money on the line and the only open man happens to play for his archrival?! Who knows?! It will bring people together, which is 1 of the beauties of the concept. We are all proud of our alma maters but when the ball goes on the floor you do not care that 1 of your teammates might have taken a charge against you earlier this season! I think the nice thing is that as seniors there should be a lot of mutual respect for your new teammates after battling as conference opponents during the past several years. It certainly provides an interesting angle.