Most people know Mike Nilson as the strength and conditioning coach of woman's basketball at Gonzaga University. Some people know him as a co-founder of U-District Physical Therapy. However, very few people know him as a successful podcast personality.
Ever since September 2019, Nilson has been creating roughly one episode each week for a podcast he started called "Hoop Commitment." With a strong focus on basketball, the podcast is tailored toward athletes, coaches and parents of athletes. Throughout the entire series, Nilson brings in several guest stars to talk about nutrition, training and leadership in the dynamic world of basketball.
“It’s all for basketball players,” Nilson said. “Anyone that wants to improve their nutrition, anyone that wants to improve their training and anyone that wants to become a better leader.”
Nilson has loved basketball ever since he found out about Michael Jordan as a kid. He ended up becoming a great player in high school but didn’t receive a single Division 1 scholarship as he looked toward the future. It was then that he had the brilliant idea to turn his goals into commitments in order to achieve his biggest dreams.
“If you really want to make your dreams come true, you need a commitment,” Nilson said. “A commitment means, ‘I have to’… it’s so important to you that there’s no way you’re going to fail.”
Rather than having an overarching goal of signing with a Division 1 school, he would make a solitary commitment to carry a basketball around all day every day. He walked through the hallways with it, brought it to classes, slept with it right by his side and even took it to prom along with his date. He still didn’t receive a scholarship. However, he did end up walking on during his freshman year at GU. The very next year, he got his scholarship and he could finally put his basketball to rest.
As the years passed by, Nilson continued to love the game and put everything he had into improving his skills. Then, in the first round of the conference tournament his senior year at GU, he ruptured his Achilles tendon. He endured rehab without the ability to play basketball for a whole year, all the while working as a strength coach and nutritionist. This experience led him to fall in love with strength conditioning and nutrition and have a practical plan for when he could no longer play the game he loves.
“When that idea presented itself, it was like, ‘click’ — that’s what I want to do,” Nilson said.
He went on to play overseas in Europe and eventually returned and retired from the game. At this point, he was able to go right into strength conditioning and nutrition and lead sessions with coaches from all around the world. When these coaches would later follow up with questions or ask him to make an appearance in their area, he simply didn’t have the time to do it all. So, he created a single free place for everyone to learn about what he is so passionate about — training, nutrition and leadership.
“I knew I loved nutrition, training, leadership, but I wanted to find a way to be able to share it with people,” Nilson said.
At the beginning, he spent just 15 minutes a day reading books by his favorite online businessperson, Pat Flynn. Throughout all of his research, he learned not only how to produce a podcast, but how to create a supplementary website and promote it over social media as well. Once it was all up and running, it was easy to maintain.
From there, he reached out to anyone who inspired him and requested their presence on the show.
“Every week I get to interview people that are mentors of mine or people that I have admired from afar,” Nilson said. “I get to pick their brain and then I get to record it and if other people find it useful, that’s awesome.”
From coaches to players, trainers to nutritionists, authors to professors, Nilson has garnered an array of professionals to share their knowledge with the world as part of his podcast.
“All his guests may not be the biggest names, but they’re often times the most credible in the space,” said Matt Santangelo, former GU guard and one of Nilson’s best friends. “Instead of doing the celebrity thing, he’s going for substance in his content.”
Santangelo is an avid follower of Nilson’s podcast. He falls into all three categories of its diverse audience: he is a former player, a parent whose children play the sport and the coach of his son’s basketball team. Santengelo was actually the first to be interviewed on the podcast, and that particular experience proves Nilson’s diligence, commitment and authenticity in being a podcast host.
“It was the greatest podcast ever — ever,” Santangelo said. “I mean we rocked it. There was laughter, there were tears, there was just profound wisdom. Great storytelling. I mean it was really, really top five podcasts of all time… and [Nilson] didn’t record it.”
Nilson and Santangelo had to record the whole 45-minute episode over again. Even though it wasn’t as amazing as the first take, it gave them the extra time to spend together as lifelong friends catching up. Santangelo said he always enjoys being in Nilson’s presence, and so does everyone else who knows him.
“Mike’s just the kind of guy that you just feel better after being around,” Santangelo said. “You might bump into him for five minutes in the morning and in the afternoon, you realize the sun is shining a little brighter, those birds are singing a little louder and you go, ‘Gosh, why does today just feel good? — Oh, that’s right. I saw Mike Nilson earlier today… I got some vitamin D. I got some vitamin Mike.’”
Shann Ferch, professor of leadership studies at GU and another of Nilson’s close friends from his basketball days, agrees with Santangelo about Nilson’s success and contagious positivity.
“The potential of who he was as a young man has been more than realized as a person of family, a person of business, a person of heart, mind and spirit,” Ferch said. “His life, I don’t know what you call it, but it’s very radiant. Other people get better by being in his presence and that was evident as a young man, but it’s kind of full bloom where he is now.”
Displayed on the walls of Nilson’s recording studio (his walk-in closet), are the Michael Jordan posters from his childhood as inspiration for what he is doing and where he started. Now, with over 60 episodes and about 1,000 downloads per week, Nilson has found pride and success in his journey to create "Hoop Commitment." He said that he loves what he does for a career, he loves his family, and he loves learning from guest speakers and sharing their knowledge with the world through his podcast.
“My hope is that more people that think like me, that are interested like me, that they find my show; but even if they don’t, I’m already home. I’m already where I need to be," Nilson said.