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Basketball: C-I grad Hoge lands dream situation

After almost giving up on his dream, Crosby-Ironton grad Mark Hoge got a phone call this spring that changed his life. Ever since he was young, 27-year-old Hoge felt he was called to play professional basketball. Following a successful high schoo...

Mark Hoge practices Friday, May 4, at Takedown Gym on Highway 371 near Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Mark Hoge practices Friday, May 4, at Takedown Gym on Highway 371 near Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

After almost giving up on his dream, Crosby-Ironton grad Mark Hoge got a phone call this spring that changed his life.

Ever since he was young, 27-year-old Hoge felt he was called to play professional basketball.

Following a successful high school career with the Rangers and then at the University of Jamestown, he spent a couple of years trying out around the country.

Then he hit a point where he felt it was time to get on with life and find a normal job. For the past few years, he has been working at Ascensus and playing league basketball and tournaments. But his dream of playing pro ball never left.

In March, a friend sent him a flyer about tryouts in the Twin Cities for the Minnesota Blizzards, a new team under development for the World Club Basketball Association.

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Hoge went to the tryouts Saturday, March 30, and the following Wednesday got the call he made the team.

"I still feel like it's a dream," Hoge said. "I was actually at work. It was about 10 a.m. when I got the call and I was so ecstatic that I called my manager to let them know that, 'Hey, this just happened,' and to give them a heads up.

"I was so overwhelmed with joy and happiness that I wound up taking a half a day off work because I couldn't concentrate. All I could think about was that all my hard work that I had put in for my whole life, all the extra hours, and tryouts I put in, that it finally paid off 27 years later."

Hoge said the WCBA started in Europe and expanded into America. The Blizzards will be one of about 16 teams around the country and their first official season will not begin until next summer with playoffs in September. At the end of the playoffs, the top team will go overseas to play in a weeklong tournament against the other top teams from the other countries in the league.

"The Blizzard team is not officially part of the league until next summer, but we will start having practices this summer," he said. "From what I've been told, they're going to work at getting some exhibition games set up this summer so that we don't have to wait a full year to actually play some basketball. We'll get more information when we have our first practices this summer.

"This is like a stepping stone league," Hoge said, "nothing you can quit a job over. The pay isn't that great, but hopefully it is a stepping stone to get you to the next level contract.

"I talked to my manager and I'm still going to keep my job with Ascensus. I'll be commuting to the Cities when we have practices. When I have to take trips, we discussed my options like taking PTO (paid time off), and I'm able to work remotely at home, so there may be times that I have to put in extra hours that way."

In high school, Hoge played on C-I teams that finished second in the Class 2A state tournament his sophomore and senior years. At Jamestown, he was a two-time All-American and as a senior, led the Jimmies in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals.

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Following graduation from Jamestown, he spent the 2014-15 season as an assistant coach under Jim Russell with the Central Lakes College Raiders. He also spent a couple disappointing years going to numerous tryouts.

"I feel like my life has meaning again," Hoge said. "I kind of gave up trying out when I quit coaching (with Russell at CLC). I was just playing leagues and tournaments. I thought, well, I gave it a try and it just didn't work out. It was time to get a normal life and a job. But there was still an emptiness inside. Ever since I got the call, I feel completely different."

In an April 2 announcement on Facebook to his friends and family, Hoge thanked the Blizzards for the opportunity to complete his dream, but added, "The only part that hurt was not being able to call dad and tell him the amazing news, but I know he did his part for me."

Mark's dad, Paul Hoge, died last year. He was a longtime organizer in the C-I youth basketball and baseball programs and an assistant coach in both sports at the high school level.

"It's something I realized more as I got older - that I didn't realize how lucky I was as a kid - to have a dad, not just who was into sports because a lot of kids had dads like that, but to have a dad that knew the sport inside and out, up and down, and who wanted every kid to succeed, individually and as a team," Hoge said. "I learned that it's about succeeding as a team as a whole. Individual stats are great, but if your team

isn't winning, your individual stats don't matter. I learned that I had to do everything I could do as an individual to help my team win. He gave me that attitude. I got that from him specifically - that it's not just about me, but it's about the people around me and how we progress in life.

"That's how he lived his life as a whole. It's how he coached sports and lived his life. It's about how we can help others move forward in life."

Hoge said he's not sure what the future holds or how long the opportunity may last, but for now he's just happy to be living his dream.

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"Sometimes things happen in different ways, not the way you expect it," he said. "I feel like I'm getting to do what I've always wanted since I was a kid, whether it is one year or 10 years, but my life is being completed."

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