In a new, ongoing series, we’ve invited journalists to our headquarters at Life Time Athletic- Target Center in downtown Minneapolis to see Ultimate Hoops firsthand and document their experience. In the first feature of the series, Gabby Zehrer offers her perspective on the Dream League.
When young basketball players are in their prime of the game, the last thing on their minds is retirement. Their lives revolve around basketball, and for some, it defines who they are. The years fly by and they have the time of their lives, until the clock runs down and the final buzzer sounds.
Suddenly, it's over.
Whether their career ends with a state championship, national championship or a successful season, there is some sort of emptiness that follows when you step off the court of the last game of your career. Ultimate Hoops has been the outlet to many players who thought their careers were over.
"Basketball was always incredibly important to me. I played it my whole life, year round, all the way through college. Once your senior season is over, you kind of have this moment that hits you and you realize 'Oh it's actually over,' and you can't go back."
Ultimate Hoops contains the professional level and competitive atmosphere that gives Jonker the unique and fulfilling experience of continuing his career as a basketball player. He continues to dominate the floor with the Pilots averaging nearly a double-double of 25 points and 8 rebounds per game, almost identical of his career stats at Carleton College.
"It's a pretty special thing that they do here. The community that is created is great and it's incredibly competitive and it's fun!" says Jonker. "It's treated exactly like a professional league, which is something you won't find anywhere else."
Joe Drapcho also played college basketball and graduated from Minnesota State Mankato going to the Final Four his senior year. He continues his career with the Pilots (impressively averaging 12 points, 6 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game) and also found Ultimate Hoops to be the outlet he was looking for after his college career.
"The biggest thing that I was missing was the competitive nature and spirit. I needed to find something where the games actually meant something to me and my teammates. Ultimate Hoops fills the missing spot for me," explained Drapcho.
"There are so many people involved that love the game, are really good competition, and show up and care. Whenever you have that it makes it so much more fun," continues Drapcho.
Ultimate Hoops isn't only an experience for the players, but it's also an opportunity for coaches and general managers to be involved. Izzy Elkaffas is currently the coach and GM for the Pilots, and finds a unique satisfaction that isn't found in coaching any other league.
"Coaching youth basketball you will find the kids that just don't get the game. Coaching these guys, I like that whatever message I convey is implemented immediately because they get it and they love basketball," says Elkaffas.
The last game of a basketball player's career is commonly thought to be the end all of their sport for life, unless they join a rec league. Any athlete will agree that playing pick-up games is not nearly as fulfilling as playing real games. At Ultimate Hoops, the love, the nature, and the competition of the game is alive and allows for the continuation of an athlete's career.
At Ultimate Hoops, they know what it truly means to never retire.
Want to write your own feature for Ultimate Hoops? Contact us.