It’s Wednesday. Finals are over. Snow may or may not be fluttering to the ground. Some students are already home. Others are shivering while waiting in line for the University of North Carolina vs. Gonzaga basketball game — which happens to be one of the biggest games to come to The Kennel.
For those students who didn’t get a ticket to the game, and for Spokane community members who are not one of the lucky 4,800 attending the game at McCarthey Athletic Center — a new nonprofit by the name of Hooptown USA has the answer.
The Watch Party will take the form of two very large jumbotrons outside, in Riverfront Park, under the lights of the recently unveiled Pavilion.
“It’s coveted to be able to watch the Zags play inside The Kennel and a small percentage of Zag fans get to ever experience what that’s like,” said Morgan Marum, director of media and corporate relations, adjunct professor of public relations at GU and a 2016 GU graduate. “And so not that we’re trying to recreate The Kennel, because that’s nearly impossible, but we want to give an opportunity to be able to come together. I think there’s power in numbers.
“There’s power in good spirits, positive vibes and everybody coming together for the same reason to support the team that sets our community apart. And so, for us, it’s just allowing a little bit of that magic to be brought into downtown Spokane and allow for everybody to participate and come together.”
The Watch Party will take place on Dec. 18 for the highly anticipated UNC-GU game. The event will begin at 4 p.m. for the general public, with the game starting at 6 p.m. Everybody is welcome, Marum said, and there is no official cap on how many can attend.
There are three levels of tickets available for the event. The first is the most basic and is free of charge. The second level is the “3-pointer,” which runs at $18. This includes a free Hooptown USA beanie and two drink tickets. This level is sold-out. The highest level is the VIP, which gives access to watching the game inside on multiple screens, where food and drinks are complimentary. This level is $100. All tickets are available on the Hooptown USA website, hooptownusa.com.
Although the free tickets can be claimed, those who don’t secure an official ticket are welcome to attend.
“The reason we ask you to secure a ticket is because it helps us secure a headcount,” Marum said. “But it really is open to everyone.”
The headcount helps sponsors and vendors decide how much food and drink to provide. There will be a beer and wine garden, with beer donated by No-Li and wine by Townshend Cellar. There will also be food trucks with food available to purchase.
More than 1,000 tickets have already been secured, though Marum said they could fit up to 6,500 people if weather permits.
With concerns of the cold becoming a problem, Marum said regardless of the weather, an event will take place.
“We realize that’s winter,” said Matt Santangelo, executive director and former men’s basketball player at GU. “But we said, ‘Heck, if we’re going to call ourselves Hooptown USA and really believe in that movement and that identity, then we’re already a little crazy.’ So let’s throw a big party.”
If the weather does not permit The Watch Party to be held outside as planned, the team has other options ready.
“Either we’ll be under the pavilion and the lights, or we will be out in front of the pavilion to block wind and sleet, if that’s the case,” Marum said.
Additionally, if the weather takes a turn for the worse, the entire event will be moved inside, which Marum said has a maximum capacity tied to it. However, she does not anticipate that will occur.
Another specialty of The Watch Party is the opportunity to interact with former men’s basketball players from GU. Specifically, players from the 2007 team, which beat UNC, and is the only team in program history to have done so.
“It’s a way to bring back former Gonzaga athletes who are still doing great things, but really left an indelible mark on the program,” Santangelo said. “And really, just going on a trip down memory lane for both the players and the fans.”
These players, such as David Pendergraft, Derek Raivio, Josh Heytvelt, Andrew Sorenson, Will Foster and possibly Sean Mallon and Matt Bouldin, will have a meet and greet with VIP ticket-holders from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. They will then hold a Q&A session with everyone in attendance from 4 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Afterward, they will mingle with attendees, take photos and sign posters.
Hooptown USA launched at Hoopfest 2019 and The Watch Party will be its first large-scale event since its launch.
“We just thought we have to do something,” Marum said. “And for us, that something had to integrate the beauty of our city and it needed to integrate and honor all people.
Everybody of all these diverse backgrounds and everybody being able to come to one place. Not something that certain ages couldn’t get into and that certain populations couldn’t afford. We wanted to make sure that anybody could come and access this watch party.”