For Mark Hoge, playing professional basketball has been a dream since he was a child.
That dream is getting closer to becoming a reality as the 28-year-old and former Crosby-Ironton graduate gained an opportunity to play in a preseason tournament for Tres Arroyos Sports Club in Argentina. Tres Arroyos plays in the second-highest level league in Argentina.
Hoge flies to Argentina next week. He said after the tournament if Tres Arroyos likes him, he could sign with the team for the regular season, which will go until December, but he doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself.
“I’m trying to wait until it's finalized and it’s 100% official before I get overly excited about it,” Hoge said. “I don’t want to count my chickens before the eggs hatch, which is why I want to make sure it’s official and not jump the gun.”
Playing professional basketball has been on Hoge’s mind since his days at the University of Jamestown. Hoge earned NAIA All-American honors his junior and senior year and finished as the seventh all-time scorer in school history.
“I had a really successful college career so I was anticipating I would be able to play pro ball right out of college,” Hoge said. “It did not quite work out. I went to tryouts for about four years. Went to tryouts all over the country just trying to make a team and just never got a contract or something to stick or land.”
His route to Argentina started last year when he made a tryout to play for the Minnesota Blizzards. It was the coach of the Blizzards who put him in contact with his current agent Damon Harper.
After July surgery on his hip for a torn labrum, Hoge needed to rehab before he could start his professional career.
After a six month rehab, Hoge was to go to Argentina to showcase his skills before the upcoming Blizzards season in May. Those plans changed when he got a call from the Tres Arroyos coach and his agent.
“They had recently ended up having a foreign player go home, so the coach was looking for a new player to fill for the upcoming season,” Hoge said. “My agent ended up telling him he had a player that was ready to go and play for him — that could step in and be a big-time player for them. He said I was the guy for the team.”
That’s when the Tres Arroyos coach asked Hoge to play for them in the preseason tournament.
“I’m leaving probably next weekend, roughly, we don’t have the set date when I will fly out yet,” Hoge said. “But I am going to be gone for their preseason which goes from March 24 to April 24. So it is expected that I will play roughly 10 preseason games.”
If Hoge makes the regular-season roster, he won’t play for the Minnesota Blizzards as planned. The opportunity with Tres Arroyos bypasses any tryouts and places him on a team right away.
“I’m going to be on a team now, playing their full preseason games and possibly can turn into a full season and a legit contract,” Hoge said. “It has been a very long process. It has been rough to go to tryouts and put up stats like I did in college at times and having agents and coaches at the tryouts tell me that I have a good game and they like what they see. But after I would contact them after the tryout I would never hear from them again. It was hard to take.”
Hoge’s expectations have been shattered numerous times. He remembers one tryout when he scored 26 points on 50% shooting, while someone on the other team scored 28 points on 26 shots. He never got talked to by agents despite playing more efficiently.
“It was a mental block for me to see that I was able to match his game and not even be looked at,” Hoge said.
This time feels different for Hoge. He senses the coach of Tres Arroyos wants him there. He also feels for the first time he has not only a pro team, but an agent that has confidence in his game.
“It’s been such a confidence booster,” Hoge said. “It’s not just me talking with someone that it might happen, but that I am going.”
Hoge can be found working out with his personal trainer at Takedown Gym and playing in a YMCA basketball men’s league in Brainerd.
If Hoge signs with Tres Arroyos he might not be coming back to the U.S. until December.
“It’s a dream come true,” Hoge said. “At the moment, I still have to show that I can play. How I do in the preseason will determine the type of contract I would get for the upcoming regular season, which starts right after the preseason. So if they like me I would not be returning to America.
“I’m as prepared as I can be. Obviously, besides my four years in college, I have lived in the Brainerd area my whole life. But I am a person who wants to tour the world and living overseas is always something I expected to do. So, I have always been prepared to live overseas for an extended period of time.”