Hall had a signature defensive move in which he would force his opponent to spin, and then Hall would poke the ball right out from behind you, Santangelo said.
Sure enough, at that first practice in 1997, that’s exactly what Hall did to him. Hall set up Santangelo to spin the other direction, and Santangelo lost his balance. Hall poked the ball away and dribbled to the other end for a layup.
Some way for the new guy to say hello.
Santangelo was a sophomore then, Hall a junior college transfer who played previously at Yakima Valley College and North Idaho College.
Later that practice, Santangelo was stuck in the corner, and Hall was “staking his claim” on defense, Santangelo said.
The sophomore pivoted and unintentionally landed an elbow to Hall’s jaw. They stopped.
“I remember this moment,” Santangelo said. “We locked eyes and it was like, OK, he saw I wasn’t gonna back down, and I knew he was a fierce competitor. We were kind of a kindred spirit, and I thought, ‘We can do this together.’ ”
A year and a half later, Gonzaga reached the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament, setting the stage for two more decades of dancing.
“When you start talking about his character qualities, you’re talking about resilience and competitiveness, just a zest for life,” Santangelo said. “He’s a good-natured, huge-hearted, wonderful person, and he always has been, always trash talking and bantering, connecting people across backgrounds and differences.”
After a brief career playing internationally, Hall took those traits back home with him to the Bahamas, where for the past 13 years he has been a middle school physical education teacher.
But for the past two months, that role has expanded into a new realm: the recovery of an island and of a community that in some places was under water as deep as a 3-point shot.
‘It will happen again’
Hall knows that hurricanes are just part of life in the Bahamas. He had been through them before. But Hurricane Dorian was unlike the others.
Hall and Vanessa, his wife, as well as their three children, rode out the furious storm in their house as it struck on Sept. 1 and lingered for two more days.
Hall has three brothers and a sister, and he said that they all survived the storm. Their parents evacuated before the storm and have been staying with family in Ohio. Their house was heavily damaged, and they haven’t yet returned, Hall said.
But the recovery is underway. Schools reopened two weeks ago. The cleanup continues. And support continues to flow in, Hall said.
“I must say, the Bahamas on the whole, the two islands (Grand Bahama and Abaco) hit extremely hard, we’ve been getting a lot of support from a whole lot of people,” Hall said in a phone interview. “But for myself and because of my relationship with Matt (Santangelo) and Wes (Oliver), they were able to do something a little bit different.”
Oliver, Hall’s former roommate, set up a GoFundMe page that exceeded its goal of $10,000 by mid-September. On top of that, Santangelo coordinated with The Spokesman-Review to make Monday’s Northwest Passages event double as a fundraiser for the Hall family, which plans to attend.
Hall said they are scheduled to arrive in Spokane late Sunday night and will stay for a week.
Monday’s event will focus on the international recruiting efforts of the Gonzaga women’s and men’s basketball programs. Santangelo said he thought it was a great opportunity to not only celebrate Gonzaga but also to benefit one of its own, Hall and his family, so they can rebuild their house.
Hall said they are still assessing the depth of the damage and whether they can repair it or find a new home entirely.
But Hall said he wasn’t particularly worried about the prospect of rebuilding. He is not backing down.
“I’ve already experienced going through a hurricane before, so this isn’t anything new,” he said. “I’m worried about the future for my kids if and when it happens again. Because it will happen again. That’s the geography of where we line up.”
For Hall and his three boys, who were all born on the islands, the Bahamas are home. But Hall has spent enough time abroad to know that he has other options. He can envision a life elsewhere.
That’s not the case, he said, for everyone in the Bahamas.
“Some people would say this is home, and it is what it is,” Hall said.
Back in session
Students returned to school two weeks ago, and ever since Hall has done what he can to provide a bit of normalcy for the students he teaches at Jack Hayward Middle School.
One child told Hall how he, his sister and his mother were out in the water the entire storm, swimming from branch to branch. He said he knows a woman who had lost her son a year ago and then took care of his children. But those grandchildren died in the hurricane.
The school has guidance counselors in place to help students, and they have told teachers to first and foremost take care of themselves, Hall said.
“But for me, this comes second nature to me,” Hall said. “Dealing with kids has been something for 13 years. I’m trying to make P.E. more fun than ever so we have a little bit of normalcy.”
Hall has also tried to get his students to understand that how they speak to each other is important, especially now.
“You don’t know what the next person is going through or has been through. That’s one thing I’ve been trying to point out to the kids: We are all one family at the end of the day,” Hall said. “That’s something I think they need to keep in their head moving forward.”
The cleanup and rebuilding effort has been tiresome, Hall said, and he is looking forward to taking a week off and returning to Spokane, a place his children have never visited.
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Santangelo said his wife has been on the hunt for coats and a few Gonzaga beanies, with the forecast highs next week hovering in the 40s.
He has kept in touch with Hall since the hurricane hit via messaging apps and said his former teammate’s resilience is clear to him.
“Even when it was happening he was like, ‘We’re gonna be all right,’ ” Santangelo said. “Stuff happens, and it’s how you respond to it.”
Hall said he’s happy for the opportunity to come back.
“I’ll just be so happy to see all my good buddies,” Hall said. “It should be a nice little reunion.”
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