At a time in life when he should be shredding guys half his age in church-league pickup games, then reaching afterward for some aspirin and Icy-Hot, former Notre Dame guard Ryan Hoover continues to play professional basketball.
Having graduated Notre Dame in 1996 following a solid four seasons that saw him score 1,269 career points (29th all-time in program history), the 38-year-old Hoover recently wrapped his 11th season as a professional. After bouncing around the basketball back roads for a few years following college, and even coaching for one year with Valparaiso, Hoover found his hoops home overseas.
This past season, he averaged 11.3 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 31.5 minutes over 28 games for Fileni BPA Jesi, a Division 2 team in Italy. He shot 30.4 percent from the field, 40.5 percent from 3 and 96.9 percent at the free throw line.
Other former Irish have been drafted in the NBA or earned bigger paychecks at the game's highest level, but no former Irish has currently been at it longer than Hoover. What keeps him going after all these years?
"I don't know," he said by cell phone earlier this week from St. Louis, the city he calls home with wife Brenna during the brief offseason. "I love to play basketball and I love to compete. I still have the hunger, the desire to win every time I step on the court."
That hunger was strengthened during Hoover's early days back in the long-defunct Continental Basketball Association. After a tryout with the New York Knicks, Hoover tore ligaments in his ankle and fell out of the NBA hoops loop. If he was going to play as a pro, he would have to find another route back in.
Hoover bounced around to such cities as Fargo, N.D., Rockford, Ill., and Sarasota, Fla. At each stop he played with guys who harbored similar professional dreams.
But he also learned how to be a true professional by not mirroring some of the me-first attitudes he saw during a whole bunch of bad bus rides, stays in bad motels and games in bad arenas in front of rows and rows of empty seats.
"I learned to deal with things -- just the mental toughness that it took was invaluable," he said. "In Europe, they play a game that's more team-oriented compared to the minor leagues here.
"The style in Europe fits me because I'm not a flashy player. That's really not what they're looking for."
Hoover learned early that if he were to enjoy a successful career overseas, he would have to do more than he did in college when he was considered first, second and often times third as a scoring guard. He likely could have been more for Notre Dame during a senior season when he averaged 13.0 points per game. But at that point in his career, and at that point in the Irish program, Hoover had to score. A lot. Every night.
Hoover's senior season coincided with Notre Dame's inaugural year in the Big East. The Irish finished 9-18, 4-14 in the league and were often overmatched, but seldom was Hoover.
"He wasn't afraid," said former Irish assistant coach and current Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery. "He could score for us at home; he could score for us on the road. He always played with a tremendous amount of confidence.
"He's now a phenomenal professional. He's a winner."
Hoover has played for five teams in Italy and also played in France. He remains confident in his game, which has evolved since college. He's now more of a combo guard who still can make shots but who also looks to facilitate the offense. He can bring the ball down the floor, get guys in the right spots and serve as an extension of the coach on the floor.
He doesn't have to score to have an impact.
"That's just what you have to do to continue to compete and be successful," Hoover said. "If you saw me play in college and saw me play now, some people might not recognize the player that's on the court."
Off the court, Hoover is reminded almost daily how lucky he has been to lead the life he has for more than a decade.
Offered opportunities to explore parts of the world he would have otherwise only read of, Hoover has taken full advantage beyond the tourist traps of Florence and Rome and Venice. Hoover and his wife have spent their down time seeing Sicily, finding the perfect restaurant tucked somewhere along the Adriatic Coast and shopping along in the streets of Lake Como. They could drive 20 minute from their apartment to the beach or spend their days in Tuscany or Siena or one of their favorite places, Cinque Terre, where homes are built into the cliffs that hug the coastline of the Italian Riviera.