Casey Calvary spent the eve of Spokane Hoopfest playing in a Gonzaga alumni game in front of a sold-out crowd of 2,000 at the Spokane Convention Center. The rest of the weekend, he devoted his time to watching his daughters as they battled in the world’s largest 3-on-3 tournament.
The 37-year-old former Bellarmine Prep and Gonzaga standout is nine years removed from his professional playing days in Japan, France, Australia and Spain. He runs a medical equipment company in Spokane.
But Calvary still has two feet in basketball despite having retired professionally. Watching his daughters, ages 10 and 13, compete on the court proved to be a challenge.
“In theory it is (fun), but it is so stressful to watch your kid,” Calvary said. “Every time they don’t get a foul call or something, or if they miss a shot, as a parent it’s so much harder to watch than to play.”
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Though he claims his daughters have the natural talent to excel in basketball, he doesn’t push it on them. It’s not his style.
“It was my thing,” he said,” but that doesn’t mean it needs to be theirs.”
Calvary is one of the many former Zags greats — along with Dan Dickau, Matt Santangelo, Richie Frahm and Blake Stepp — who gravitated back to Spokane.
Calvary is remembered for his ferocious backboard abuse — he broke a backboard in Spokane Arena in 2001 — and the last-second power tip-in that catapulted Gonzaga past Florida into the Elite Eight during a 1999 Cinderella run in the NCAA Tournament.
Those two career-defining plays are among the most notable to fans.
“People will tell me where they were, or what they were doing when they saw either one of those plays,” Calvary said.
Enough people over the years claimed to have attended the game during which he broke the backboard, Calvary laughed, that “there must have been 90,000 people at that game.”
Many of Gonzaga’s “fraternity” of players returned to the Spokane area because they helped change the basketball culture.
“Spokane’s a vortex,” Calvary said. “The first time I came over here, I thought I’d be here for four years and probably never come back, but there’s something about this place. The weather’s great and the people, the community that we’ve built here around the university really draws us all back.”
Dickau echoed the sentiment.
“Guys are very proud about being a part of the initial crew that really started getting that thing going,” he said. “I think all of us feel really proud of what we were a part of at the beginning. And then now to see it where they’re a perennial top-10, top-15 program is really, really cool, really unique.”
Although Calvary was responsible for one of the most impactful plays in program history, he did not anticipate that he would remain a household name to Gonzaga fans.
“It’s surprising to me, you know, this many years later and being 37,” Calvary said. “At the time you’re just playing and having fun. It’s just basketball, it’s what you do. It’s shocking to me that it’s lasted as long as it has. I think that has to do with the fact that we’ve had such continued success there at the school.”
More than an hour before the alumni game last month, the line to enter coiled around and out of the convention center. He was surprised how quickly the alumni game sold out.
Calvary’s parents still live in Tacoma. He visits twice a year and has enjoyed most of Bellarmine Prep’s basketball success from afar. Postseason success was something Calvary’s Lions did not achieve.
“That certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth,” he said. “It was a lot of motivation for me to go out and win a lot of basketball games in college.”
Calvary’s next basketball endeavor will be among his highest-profile games since his professional days.
He is teaming with former Zags to compete in The Basketball Tournament, an open-application, 5-on-5, single-elimination, winner-take-all competition.
Led by player-coaches Dickau and Stepp, the troupe of former Zags — named the Few Good Men — has been practicing all summer and will play its first game Saturday in Los Angeles against the Whistle Sports Dot Squad.
The prize money — $2 million — has doubled each of the three years since the tournament’s inception. Each year thus far, the winner has been a group of former college standouts.
“We asked, ‘Hey, are you serious about this? Do you want to win? Is it important?’ ” Dickau said. “Each one of the guys was like, ‘I want to be there, I want to win.’ … You have to have the competitive juice, the competitive fire to say, ‘Let’s go win this thing.’ ”
Call the alumni game a practice round.
“Some of us aren’t in the shape we were in six, seven years ago,” Dickau said. “But there’s a carrot dangling in front of us to get in shape, so we’re back in the gym and getting shots up in a way that we haven’t got them up in years.
“But it’s a fun challenge, that’s for sure.”
Though Calvary plays in basketball tournaments with the Spokane Athletic Club and the usual pickup games, he’s taken to outdoor sports — wake surfing, snorkeling and free diving. Twice a year, he visits Oahu, in part to see former Gonzaga strength and conditioning coach Mike Chrysler, a longtime friend who turned him toward water sports.
Asked if he would ever move to Hawaii full time, Calvary, who is married with three kids, had a quick reply.
“The Northwest is the spot for me,” he said. “I’m happy here, I’m comfortable. I do love to go out there and visit, but I think I’d go stir crazy on a little island. I need to go to the mountains, strap my skis on, need a little bit more space. This is home for me.”