Seeking a new leader for the world’s largest 3-on-3 basketball tournament, the Hoopfest Association Board of Directors turned to a blue blood of Spokane basketball: former Gonzaga star Matt Santangelo.
Santangelo, 36, will eventually replace longtime executive director Rick Steltenpohl, who announced in February that he is stepping down to manage similar events elsewhere.
“Basketball is going to be the easiest dot to connect in this whole thing,” Santangelo said. “But I will be drinking from the fire hose for a while. Who knew that 14 years ago, coming from Gonzaga, that I’d have a chance to be involved in this.”
Registration is already open for the 25th annual Hoopfest, which began in 1990 with 512 teams and now hosts more than 7,000 teams and 27,000 players on 454 courts.
“Stelts is going to stay on through this event,” Santangelo said. “My biggest priority is to sit back and learn. He’ll be an open book for me as I transition into that role.”
Steltenpohl said he wants to see the silver anniversary of the event he helped manage come to fruition before he joins Aaron Magner to create an events company to manage similar events throughout the country.
Steltenpohl said he learned late last week that the board had selected Santangelo, who played at GU from 1996-2000 and was a member of the 1999 Elite Eight team.
“I think Matt’s going to be wonderful,” he said, adding the event is “part of the fabric of the community.”
After his playing career in Europe ended in 2006, Santangelo returned to Spokane as a radio color analyst for IMG Sports Marketing in 2010. He also recently worked as employee-benefits consultant for insurance firm Moloney & O’Neill.
Board chairman and event co-founder Rick Betts joked that “everybody in Spokane” applied for the job, which was narrowed down to about 100 people before the selection focused on Santangelo.
“Basketball is only part of the board’s decision,” Betts said. “He also really brings us someone … who is a proven leader.”
Despite what many people thought, Steltenpohl did not drive the maroon “Hoopfest” Toyota Tundra that is often seen parked downtown. “I think I got to test drive it one time,” he said.
When asked about the truck, Santangelo confirmed it’s not a perk of the new job. “That was almost a deal breaker,” he said, laughing.