Former Irish guard Ryan Hoover hangs 'em up

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Swapping stories and sharing laughs while remembering good times with former teammates during the occasional Notre Dame men’s basketball reunion never was an option for Ryan Hoover.

The former Irish guard always was busy at this point on the calendar preparing to play another season in Europe. But this weekend, when Notre Dame hosts North Carolina in football, Hoover will pack up the family car with his wife and daughters at the new home he purchased last month in suburban Kansas City, Kan., and make the eight-hour road trip to campus for the first time since a quick visit in the summer of 2006.

There, he plans to reconnect with former teammates Pat Garrity, Matt Gotsch, Derek Manner and Marcus Young.

“It’s going to be cool and emotional to be back,” Hoover said. “A lot of memories will come back.”

For the first time since he graduated Notre Dame in 1996, Hoover will not call someplace in Europe home for the better part of seven months. For the first time since he started playing basketball at a young age, there is no basketball.

Hoover contacted the Tribune earlier this week with the news that after 18 seasons of professional basketball in some way, shape or form, he was retiring.

“There were a lot of reasons, but it’s just time,” said Hoover, who turned 40 in April. “It was a fun time in Europe; it was a good run, but it’s just time to move on.”

Hoover knew when he walked off the court for the last time last April – the 28th to be exact – that he likely wouldn’t step back on it. Waiting for him just off that day in Naples, Italy, that day was one of his daughters, who presented him with a cut-out in the shape of a heart. Hoover didn’t make the last shot he attempted, didn’t win a championship with the last team he played for, wasn’t carried off the floor by teammates, but he couldn’t think of a better way to call it a career than that.

“I knew that was it,” he said. “I did it on my own terms.”

And, staggering to think, Hoover did it longer than any former player in Notre Dame in program history. After a brief tryout with the NBA’s New York Knicks, Hoover bounced around several cities and teams in the old Continental Basketball Association and the United States basketball League. He also played in Venezuela before heading overseas. In between, he coached one year at Valparaiso University.

Hoover enjoyed a longer run than any former Irish great. He played longer than Austin Carr and Adrian Dantley, two members of the school’s Ring of Honor. Longer than Bill Laimbeer, who won two world championships rings as a player with the Detroit Pistons. Longer than Matt Carroll and Troy Murphy, David Rivers and John Paxson.

No former Irish played professionally longer than a 6-foot-2 guard from Roscoe, Ill., who ranks 29th on the school all-time scoring list with 1,269 points.

“Eighteen years is a long time,” Hoover admitted.

Hoover won two Italian league championships and led the league in free throw percentage four times. He still holds the single-game record for 3-pointers (12), which he hit while scoring a career-best 44 points in December 2004. During the 2013-14 season in Italy’s A2 Gold (second division) league, Hoover averaged 10.1 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.1 steals in 26.9 minutes over 15 games for Pallacaestio Trieste. He then played eight games with Jesi, where he averaged 8.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 28.3 minutes.

“He was always a gym rat who loved to play,” said Garrity. “When you have a guy like that, he could play for a long time. It’s incredible that he played for 18 years.”

Nearly six months removed from Europe, Hoover continues to adjust to life back in the states. Everything here moves so much quicker, with everyone in such a hurry. It’s still odd for him to drop off one of his daughters at kindergarten, and hear the teacher speaking English. It’s odd to see everyone in such a rush to go somewhere, anywhere, every day.

“In Europe, it’s so much more relaxed and laid-back,” Hoover said. “Here, if you get 20 minutes at lunch with nothing to do, that’s pretty good.”

Hoover continues to chase what’s next after basketball. He’s talked about getting involved with a tech start-up company in the Kansas City area. He’s considered medical sales and interviewed with Sprint. Some days, wondering what’s next is exciting. Others, it’s downright scary.

“I’m just trying to find the next chapter in life that’s out there for me,” he said.

Hoover has wandered into the gym for an occasional lunch-time pickup game or evening recreational league run, but it’s just not the same. After so many years of chasing and living his dream, of pushing himself to prove worthy of a roster spot, there’s something missing.

“It’s tough when you don’t have that drive anymore,” he said. “I still love the game, but I’m not working toward anything in it.”

Garrity answers NBA call

Life was good for former first-round draft pick Pat Garrity after 10 years in the NBA.

Once with dreams of becoming a doctor, the biology/pre-med major while at Notre Dame returned to school after his pro career concluded in 2008, and earned a master’s degree in 2011 from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. For the last three years, he worked in client services of a hedge-fund firm in Bridgeport, Conn.

But something was missing. The more he moved away from the NBA, where he once served as secretary and treasurer of the players’ association, the more he missed it. He started thinking more about getting back involved in the league.

Then Stan Van Gundy was hired in May as head coach and president of basketball operations with the Detroit Pistons. Van Gundy coached Garrity during his final season with the Orlando Magic. The two remained close. When Van Gundy called Garrity with a job offer last month, Garrity didn’t think twice.

Garrity is weeks into his role as the Piston’s director of strategic planning. What does the job entail? Not even Garrity knows for sure.

“I’m plugging away trying to my find my way around up here,” said the 38-year-old Garrity, fifth on Notre Dame’s all-time scoring list (2,085 points). “We’re still trying to figure it all out, but it’s been a lot of fun.”

Garrity works closely with general manager Jeff Bowers on how the organization can do just about everything – scouting, the draft, social media, communication, etc. – at a winning/championship level.

He wasn’t going to chase any NBA job, but the opportunity to work with Van Gundy, whom he considers one of the brightest basketball minds he’s ever been around, was too good to pass on.

Garrity relocated to the Detroit area full-time while his wife, Paula, and son, Henry, remain back in Connecticut for the school year.

“When this opportunity came up, I was interested in working with Stan,” said Garrity, the 1997 Big East player of the year. “I don’t know if this opportunity came up after one year (into retirement) that I’d be as well-equipped. It allowed me to have some separation from the game.”

It’s also allowed Garrity to start from the ground floor for the once-proud franchise. When the Pistons in April fired long-time general manager and Hall of Fame guard Joe Dumars, they basically turned full control over to Van Gundy, who hit the reset button on every aspect of the organization.

Everything is new.

“It’s rare to be able to do this in the NBA, where you can get a fresh start,” Garrity said. “When there’s a change in coaching or front office, there are usually some holdovers from the previous staffs, but now you get to do it in a place that has a championship history.”

Where this might lead Garrity remains a mystery. Maybe he’ll want to become even more involved in the front office. Maybe he’ll take steps to become a general manager in five, six, seven years. Maybe he’ll go back to private business. Every day is a new one for him to discover.

“We have such a good group here to try and build a contender,” he said.

Detroit hasn’t been to NBA playoffs since 2009.

Former Irish guard Ryan Hoover spent 18 seasons as a professional basketball player before announcing his retirement this week. (SBT File Photo)