If there is one thing Hoopfest teaches, it is you don’t have to have NBA talent to enjoy basketball.
Or use basketball to get a message out.
As the 22nd version of the world’s largest 3-on-3 street basketball tournament got under way Saturday under partly cloudy skies and moderate temperatures, Joel Ryman used his stature as a Hoopfest defending champion – 6-foot-and-under elite division – to spread a word.
The former Northwest Christian and CCS star helped No Ceilings to the open title, short version, last season and, due to an injury, is back helping brothers Dan (University High) and Justin (Central Valley) Bright and former Gonzaga player Andrew Sorenson try to make it two in a row.
But it’s Ryman’s other team he wants to market.
Playing in the 6-foot-and-over elite division with former lifelong friend – and teammate – Robert Lippman, Adam Shildmyer and Calin Schell, Ryman hopes to lead Gates of Hope to a title.
And not just the Hoopfest title.
“It’s more than just a hobby,” Ryman said of playing basketball, a passion of his since youth. “I honestly feel like there’s a reason, a purpose just to play. One is just pleasure. I just get so much pleasure from playing.
“But this year, getting to play – I’m not trying to romanticize this, I genuinely feel it – takes it to another level of me feeling like ‘OK, I have something more than just myself to play for. I’ve got an organization that is really trying to help people.”
The Gates of Hope on Ryman’s black jersey refers to the charity he and his wife, Deborah, volunteer for, a non-profit, volunteer-run African outreach program that runs an orphanage for some 30 children in Nairobi, Kenya.
“It’s something that’s been important for us,” said Ryman, pointing to himself and Deborah. “Even before Gates of Hope, it’s been a passion and a ministry for us, to want to go to Africa and just serve.
“It’s a perfect segue for us to get involved.”
Ryman, who works selling title insurance, hasn’t been able to do that as yet – though he missed Hoopfest in 2009 to run a Young Life basketball camp in small-town Spain – so he’s trying to raise awareness for Gates of Hope at Hoopfest.
Deborah, a behavior therapist, has a supply of informational postcards about Gates of Hope put together by Joel, who puts his marketing degree from Northwest Nazarene University to work on behalf of the organization.
“If anything, if people don’t decide to donate to Gates of Hope, we want them to know there are kids that you can impact whether it is in Spokane, Africa or wherever.”
No Ceilings was the only returning elite champion to lose in the first day, falling to HDMD in the second round. The team bounced back later Saturday, however, and is still alive in the losers’ bracket, though they’ll have to win six games Sunday to move through.
Two-time defending 6-foot-and-over champion, Tonicx, led by former Gonzaga player David Pendergraft and former Ferris Saxon Eric Benzel, won twice in bracket play and will face Wheatland Bank and two other former Zags, Cory Violette and Colin Floyd, on center court Sunday morning at 9:30.
In women’s elite bracket play, last year’s titlist, TBA, moved along with two easy wins, though Lindsey Wilson said there seems to be more competition this season.
“It’s amazing how fast a year goes, you know? We’re all back together, and we’re all good friends, but a lot has changed,” said Wilson of her teammates, Breanne Watson, Amy Taylor and Casey Bunn, all of whom have played professionally overseas. “I think the first game, we were a little rusty as far as our team chemistry, but it came back this game, I think.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is Wilson’s appreciation of the event.
“We’ve made a lot of friends in Spokane,” she said, noting this was third year the team’s been together. “Hoopfest is so much fun. If you love hoops, it doesn’t get any better than this.”
Rochestie takes it in
One person who would agree with Wilson is former Washington State guard Taylor Rochestie. Even though he lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., and his family is in Southern California, Rochestie’s first stop after finishing his professional season in Germany was Pullman and Spokane, the latter to see Hoopfest again.
“This is madness,” said Rochestie, whose Berlin-based ALBA team lost in the German National League finals. “This is like Washington’s Mardi Gras. It’s unbelievable.”
The scope of the event is what amazes the point guard.
“It gets bigger and bigger every year,” said Rochestie, who has been to Hoopfest three times. “I couldn’t imagine putting something like this on.
“The funny thing is, they ask me a lot about street basketball overseas, and I say it’s big, but not too big. Then you come to a thing like this and it’s unbelievable.”
This year’s Hoopfest features some 27,500 players on 485 courts downtown.
NBA duo sign in
It seemed like many of those players were in line to grab autographs from former Washington star and current Oklahoma City Thunder player Nate Robinson and longtime friend Terrence Williams of the Houston Rockets.
The duo were in town to not only sign autographs – they signed everything from a fan’s forehead to a Canadian $5 bill – and to judge the slam dunk competition but to also promote a youth camp they are hosting Aug. 2-4 at the Hub sports complex in Liberty Lake.
“It’s so the kids can see (basketball) is not all you just come into the gym and all of a sudden you have talent,” Robinson said of the motivation behind the camps. “You have to work extremely hard at what you do and who you are.
“Everyday we want to show them the basics about basketball, about teamwork, about sportsmanship and the real main thing, education. Without an education you can’t play basketball. You have to be a smart individual.”
More information about the camp can be found at elitesports.biz.
Violette’s presence at Hoopfest is courtesy of a change in his playing status.
“I actually retired,” said the former Gonzaga star, who played last season for the Toshiba team in Kawasaki, Japan. “I was looking for something else to do. I wanted to stay home more. I had a great run, seven years overseas, but I kind of wanted to be around. I love the Northwest.”
Violette, who played at GU from 2001-04, is living in Spokane and working in the financial industry.
“It’s a blast,” he said of his job.
But once a 6-foot-8 rebounding machine, always one. So when Colin Floyd called about a month ago and inquired about Violette joining him in Hoopfest, Violette said yes.
“I thought it would be kind of fun,” he said. “Since I was done playing, if I get hurt it’s no big deal. It’s been a lot of fun so far. Tiring, though.”