It’s not difficult to understand Ryan Hansen’s deep fondness for Hoopfest.
Not only has the former Eastern Washington University shooting guard managed to help satisfy his competitive cravings by making his annual trek to Spokane to play in the world’s largest 3-on-3 street basketball tournament, but in the process he found a wife.
It was at Hoopfest eight years ago that Phil Way, a former teammate of Hansen’s at Walla Walla Community College, introduced him to Jessica Knowlton, who had a basketball history of her own. Way was dating Knowlton’s sister at the time and figured there might be some chemistry between the two, considering Knowlton has played point guard on an NAIA national championship team at Northwest Nazarene in the late 1990s.
He was right.
Today the two reside, along with their three young children, in Auburn, Wash., where the 31-year-old Hansen has spent the last seven winters at Auburn High School, teaching physical education and coaching the boys basketball team.
This weekend, he and his family will make another trip to Hoopfest, which will play out Saturday and Sunday on the streets of downtown Spokane. Hansen will take a step down the competitive ladder, however, after playing a major role in three of Hoop Hearted’s four consecutive championships in the under 6-feet Men’s Elite Division from 2004-06.
The last two years, Hansen and his Hoop Hearted teammates made it to the finals of their bracket but lost. This year they will move down to the Adult Competitive Division.
“We’re not getting any younger,” said Hansen, who was named the MVP of his Hoopfest division in 2004. “I just kind of decided that I still wanted to play, but in a less competitive environment. I’m kind of coming over this year just to have a good time and enjoy the experience.”
Hansen, after transferring to EWU in fall 1998, put together two solid seasons for the Eagles, averaging 12.4 points per game as a senior and helping Eastern to a share of its first Big Sky Conference regular-season championship.
But he is best remembered for the desperation 55-foot buzzer-beater he threw in that winter to lift the Eagles to a win over Idaho State in their Big Sky opener. He doesn’t seem to mind having his college career defined by that one shot, which was later honored as the Compaq Play of the Year.
“I try not to define my career at Eastern with just one shot, but I know a lot of people probably do,” Hansen said. “Obviously, that was kind of a turning point for us that season, because it was our league opener and we had kind of struggled with our non-conference schedule.
“I’d like to think that shot kind of catapulted us into the season we ended up having.”
After knocking off ISU, Eastern went on to finish 15-12 overall and 12-4 in the Big Sky, tying Montana for the regular-season title.
After earning his teaching degree from EWU, Hansen played briefly in South Korea before returning home and accepting the head coaching job at Auburn, where – at the age of 24 – he was the youngest coach “by far” in the perennially powerful South Puget Sound Athletic League.
Hansen had done his student teaching at Auburn and couldn’t pass on the chance to coach the game he loves.
“I kind of debated whether or not I should keep trying to play,” he said. “But I also knew I wanted to be a coach and that this was an opportunity I should probably take advantage of. I felt like they kind of took a risk hiring a young guy that really didn’t have any coaching experience, but it’s worked out well.
“We’ve had some really good teams and we’ve been competitive every year.”
Hansen, along with his coaching and teaching duties, also runs a summer high school basketball league and plays on two recreational basketball teams in the spring. He recently put together a team that included former EWU teammate Marco Quinto to play against the inmates at the McNeil Island Corrections Center in the Puget Sound
It was the “sixth or seventh” game Hansen has played against an all-star team of inmates inside a prison facility.
“I’ve been to Walla Walla (State Penitentiary) a couple of times and that was my second time at McNeil,” he said. “It’s a really cool experience, because they bring in a couple hundred inmates to watch the game, and it gets pretty rowdy.
“It’s a hostile environment, for sure. But every time I’ve done it, they’ve really been appreciative and we’ve never had any issues.”
The one place Hansen has cut back on basketball is at his home, where he and his wife used to get in some heated 1-on-1 matchups. It was a move designed to keep peace in the family.
“She’s a really good defender and she’s pretty scrappy,” Hansen said of his wife of almost seven years. “But we try to stay away from those 1-on-1 matchups, because sometimes they start to get a little too competitive – I’ll start to play hard, and then she’ll start to get mad.”
Hansen’s wife has played in a couple of Hoopfests, but has been little more than a fan of late, taking care of their sons, Kaden, 5, and Carter, 2. This weekend, she will also be dealing with their 9-month-old daughter, Avery.
“She’s been pregnant a lot, so she hasn’t played lately,” Hansen said. “But she still really loves coming over there. It’s just such a cool environment for basketball.
“I know she’s anxious to start playing again, and with three kids, maybe at some point we’ll all come over and play in the family division.”
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