March Madness is when your team is the No. 4 seed at your conference tournament and you make it to the championship game by knocking off the No. 2 seed in the semifinals. Your coach tells you to pack a bag, just in case, because after the game the winner will travel to Indianapolis for the NCAA Tournament. You don’t pack a bag because, well, just because. You win the game. With three hours to go before you board a plane, you take a shower, head back to the dorm, celebrate a little with your teammates and begin packing your bag.
“I kinda saved that for Indianapolis,” Anchorage’s Matt Hobbs said.
Hobbs is a 23-year-old senior for the Hartford Hawks, who will take on Baylor in a first-round game Friday in Indianapolis. A 2016 South High graduate, he is one of two Alaskans who made it to the Big Dance — Kamaka Hepa of Utqiagvik is there with the Texas Longhorns, who play Utah State on Friday.
Hobbs is a 6-foot-4 guard in his third season at Hartford. He’s a role player who has seen action in seven games this season for the 15-8 Hawks, an America East Conference team making their first NCAA Tournament appearance.
“My role is to be the best teammate I can,” Hobbs said Monday from Indianapolis, presumably having send his dirty clothes to the hotel laundry service by then. “I help out where I’m needed and try to make my teammates better.”
Hobbs took a circuitous route to Division I basketball, one that showed his resolve and willingness to improve his game. After graduating from South, he spent a year refining his skills at the Impact Basketball Academy in Las Vegas, and then spent a year playing Division III basketball at the University of New England in Maine.
He joined Hartford in 2018-19 as a sophomore, becoming the third Hobbs boy to play Division I basketball — 6-7 Tommy played two seasons at New Orleans and 6-8 Jack played four years at Hartford. A fourth brother, Dari, didn’t play.
Their parents are Dick and Andy Hobbs, and Dick stands 6-foot-6 and spent five years at the Naval Academy, some of them as a member of the JV basketball team. In the 1985-86 season, he was added to the varsity roster for the NCAA Tournament. He didn’t see any action, but he was a part of the David Robinson-led team that made it to the Elite Eight.
Neither Tommy nor Jack made it to the NCAA Tournament, but 35 years after Dick was there, Matt is there too.
“Dad made the tournament way back in the day so me and him are having a couple jokes here and there about that,” said Matt, who is on track to graduate this summer with a degree in business management.
Dick Hobbs said his sons all possess skills greater than his.
“I was at the right place at the right time and was just big enough to be a good elbow-catcher, but I was never at the same level as my boys,” he said. “They are so much better athletes than I ever was.”
“… I’m so happy for Matt that he gets this experience. He had a hard road to get to this point — a harder road than Tommy and Jack, but he persevered.”
Dick and Andy Hobbs were on hand Saturday in Hartford, Connecticut, when the Hawks defeated UMass-Lowell 64-50 to earn their first conference title and their first NCAA berth.
They’ll be in Indianapolis for Friday’s game, as will Jack Hobbs and several family members and friends, including Bentiu Panoam, one of Matt’s best friends and a Bartlett High graduate who just finished his final season at North Dakota.
Dick called his 1986 March Madness experience “overwhelming,” in a good way. His advance to his son:
“Enjoy the moment. And the caliber of talent that he’s around. Because he’s going to see kids that he’ll see on TV some day,” he said.
Since their arrival in Indianapolis, Matt Hobbs and the Hawks have been occupied with practices, team meetings and team meals. “They’re doing a good job of keeping us busy we don’t have that much time to step back and let it sink in,” Hobbs said.
In fact, life has pretty much been nonstop since the Hawks won the America East championship.
“About three hours after the game we had to board a plane, so that was real fun,” Hobbs said. “(Coach) said pack a bag, just in case, but we all kind of didn’t really listen to that. I took a quick shower, got back to the dorm, tried to celebrate as much as possible and then we were off to the airport.
“Somewhere along the way my basketball shoes ended up getting lost. I like to blame the bus and plane people,” he said with a tone that suggested maybe they aren’t to blame. Not to worry. In his hurry to pack, he included a second pair.