Matt Santangelo, Zag Extraordinare

He led Gonzaga to the Elite Eight in 1999 and surpassed John Stockton in career assists. One of the all-time great guards at Gonzaga, Matt catches us up on his family, pro career and recalls his Gonzaga Experience, among other interesting topics.

On his high school career and recruitment:

I played high school ball at Central Catholic High School in SE Portland. I, also, played with Triple Threat, a local AAU program, during the summer. I had a successful career, winning State as a Junior and always being ranked in the AAU national top 10 with Triple Threat. I, also, enjoyed a successful individual career. I was all-conference, conference player of the year (twice), all-state, all-west coast, AAU Oregon State Player of the Year, and honorable mention All-American. All of these things allowed me to be recruited by various schools. My final 5 were Gonzaga, Stanford, Oregon, Rice and Northwestern. From there it seemed to me that GU was the best opportunity for me, not only to play, but to compete for championships. At the time I had no idea how good of a choice it would turn out to be.

About redshirting and his decision to redshirt:

The decision to redshirt my freshman year was not a difficult one to make. I decided that I was going to be a better player at 22 than at 17. I would also have been playing behind a senior point guard (Kyle Dixon). And it gave me an opportunity to get ahead on my academics. There were too many positives. I was lucky too. We had 5 redshirts that year (Mike Nilson, Ryan Floyd, Carl Crider, Brad McKnight and myself). It was a great group to be a part of and learn with. I do not see any negatives to redshirting. If you have the ability to be an impact player as a true freshman, then you should play, but there is nothing wrong with taking a year to learn and develop.

On memorable games at Gonzaga:

I remember a lot of games, wins and losses. The ones that stick out with me are probably that ones that stick out to everyone. Some more of the memorable... Our first win at San Diego my senior year. Anytime we beat UW and WSU. At Pepperdine my senior year, and again in the final of the WCC Tournament. Beating Santa Clara to go to the NCAA's my junior year. Beating Stanford as a junior and St. John's as a senior, both to advance to the Sweet 16. The Top of the World Classic my sophomore year. Really, there seem to be too many to count or recall. It was great run, wasn't it?

On Gonzaga's continued success and not being "Cinderella" anymore:

I have not had a great opportunity to watch GU play after I graduated, but what seems to be the biggest difference is the amount of attention they receive for just being a quality program. When you talk about college basketball you talk about GU. I believe that to be the ultimate compliment. It gives them the ability to recruit kids that couldn't before, and achieve a level of respect that we did not receive before. I, also, believe that it is a different mindset for the players today. We were hungry for the respect and played that way, and the teams today have to be hungry to keep it and to establish their own identity.

On the 1999 team and how things have changed:

What we were able to do in '99 and some of the obstacles more recent teams have faced is the beauty of the NCAA Tournament. No one can explain it. That is why it captures our imagination every March. We had a good team, and we were just naive enough to believe that we could beat anyone. We had nothing to lose and everything to gain. That is another one of the differences between what we had and what GU teams face now. These teams now have expectations and they have something to lose. It is a different approach. I believe that GU will continue to grow and continue to be successful. And, they will learn to live with that success until someone else sets the standard even higher.

On the NBA:

I am the last person you want to try and explain the NBA. I am not sure what factors lead to a player making a roster. The NBA is a league unto itself. It is evident from the Olympics that the USA struggles when they are forced to play basketball as the rest of the world does. That is not to take away from the amount of talent in the NBA, but the game is played differently in other parts of the world. I want to believe that NBA teams have a good process to select players, but it is clear that something must change (evolve) in order for the USA to retain its image as the best basketball in the world.

On his post-Gonzaga career and future in hoops:

My career as a pro... I am not sure how to answer this one. The first thing that comes to mind is how fortunate I am to be able to make a living playing the game that I love. Basketball has enabled me to see the world, to learn other cultures, and meet wonderful people. My immediate future is here in Spain. I have one more year under contract with Caja San Fernando in Sevilla, Spain. After that it is anyone's guess. I would like to stay in Spain. This is the second best league in the world and I would love to continue to play here. As far as Australia... I have not talked to Axel [Dench]. I think I will go wherever the game takes me at least for the next few years.

His thoughts on what Gonzaga gave him and life after basketball:

I graduated with a degree in human resource management. To me, GU further reinforced the lessons I learned at home. The importance of community, hard work, goal setting, and the belief that amazing things can happen. I often ask myself what I will be doing after ball. I am not sure. I know I will be back in Portland, working. Right now I am focused on what I need to do now. My wife and I are expecting our first child in February. So family and basketball are taking all of my thoughts and energy.

On how he met his wife and a little about her:

I met my wife, Cathy, at GU. Biology 101 freshman year. We dated through our time at school. We were married 2 years ago in Portland, OR. Like I mentioned, we are expecting our first child. I believe that Cathy is a basketball fan. She never misses a game and understands some of the nuances. But, I am not sure how much she will miss it when it is gone. All I know is that it is a great comfort to know she is in the stands watching.

Any regrets?

No regrets. No changes. I am in a good place right now, and I could not be here if I had not experienced the successes and failures throughout the ride.


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