Forever altering the course of basketball in Spokane, the 1999 Gonzaga men’s basketball team conjured up its own Cinderella story, leveraging its Elite Eight run into two decades-plus of success.
That run, forever enshrined by sophomore Casey Calvary’s wild go-ahead putback tip with 4.4 seconds left in the Sweet 16 against Florida, catapulted the Zags and Spokane onto the basketball map.
The 1999 team was selected as one of the six inductees into the inaugural Hooptown Hall of Fame and will be recognized on Thursday during a two-hour ceremony at the Hooptown USA Courts just south of the Podium on the north bank of the Spokane River.
Hoopfest Executive Director Riley Stockton said the Hall of Fame induction was planned for Hoopfest 2021, but with the cancellation it was bumped to this year.
“It is a huge honor,” said Mike Nilson, a junior on the ’99 team . “It’s so amazing that 20-plus years later, people still remember us and it just feels so good. And the whole team, my whole class, all the Zags, we love Spokane. It just feels so good to be a small part of it.”
It was only the second tournament appearance by the Bulldogs, who played in their first in 1995 and have made every NCAA Tournament since ’99, culminating with national championship appearances in 2017 and 2021.
“I have to say probably the highlight of my basketball career was – I was actually sitting on the bench – when Casey Calvary tipped in that shot,” Nilson said. “And to see my parents up in the stands crying, and we all dogpile on center court.”
The Zags expected in attendance are Nilson, Nilson’s roommate at GU, Matt Santangelo, and Calvary.
Also being inducted two days before Hoopfest makes its return after a two-year pandemic hiatus are Hoopfest founders Rick Betts and Jerry Schmidt, Bobby Jack Sumler, former Washington State head coach George Raveling, former Cougar Jeanne Eggart Helfer and former Bulldog John Stockton.
“I don’t know a lot of them personally, so as a fan of basketball I’m just excited to be able to learn more about them and to be able to shake their hands,” Nilson said. “And it’s a pretty diverse group from different areas, eras and players and coaches.”
“Those local legends are what makes Spokane great because there are many of them that have gone through, and there are many to come,” Riley Stockton said.
The event tips off at 7 p.m. and continues until 9 . Tickets are on sale to the public on Eventbrite.com for $10. Appetizers and dessert will be provided, and drinks will be available.
“It’s just a great way to recognize some people in our community that I looked up to,” Riley Stockton said.
“A lot of the teams, the athletes, are all people I admire … so to be able to honor them and kind of rightfully place them in the Hooptown Hall of Fame is very important.”