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  • Writer's pictureNicole D'Costa

TCNJ Club's Michael Hoffman Stands Tall

If there’s one thing Michael Hoffman knows, it’s how to hustle. Work harder than everyone around him. Play smarter than the next guy.

Hustle has propelled him through all levels of basketball. Michael always had the passion, but not the height for the sport. His hardworking attitude have made him the leader he is today.

Basketball Beginnings

A Cherry Hill, New Jersey, native, Michael grew up an athlete. He started playing basketball, soccer, and baseball in first grade. His dad, Jon Hoffman, enrolled Michael in recreational leagues and travel programs. [His dad was even his coach for many years.]

All the young boys were around the same height at the time, and all seemed to go well for Michael.

But as middle school rolled around, Michael’s lack of height became a major impediment. He tried out for but got cut from the sixth grade basketball team. Then again in seventh grade. Then again in the eighth.

These setbacks didn't stop him. He continued to play in other leagues and programs.

“As a child Michael was very hardworking in school and was always determined to be a success. He refused to fail,” said Karen Hoffman, Michael’s mom.

Michael’s path was not an easy one, however. Michael recalled, “Even when I would play on the travel teams, they would have the A-team, B-team, and C-team and they would put me on the worst one every time.” The weaker teams lost badly most of the time.

Michael knew he wasn’t the star. Still, he showed up to all the practices and games and gave it his all in hopes for an opportunity to showcase his talent. He learned to hustle.

High Hopes for High School

Michael was excited to continue playing sports in high school. His freshman year, he played soccer in the fall to stay in shape for basketball season.

Freshman year, however, was no different than middle school. He did not make the team again.

“It was really rough getting cut once again my freshman year,” Michael said. He had a choice to make.

The following year, he quit soccer in an effort to make the basketball team as a sophomore. After weeks of constantly practicing with long hours on the court, his hard work paid off. He made the junior varsity team.

On the j.v. team, Michael rarely saw playing time, and he lacked recognition by his coaches. He had many doubts that he belonged in basketball. “There were stressful days where I would come home and not be in the mood to eat dinner or didn’t want to sleep because I wondered why this was happening to me,” Michael said. He wondered, “What did I do to deserve this? I got to this point but it seems like I’m not supposed to be here.”

Michael knew things had to change. He thought, “If I continue to work hard, hopefully I will get some opportunities to play more.” He knew what he wanted and was determined to get it.

His main strategy revolved around the playbook.

The coaches usually only taught the best players. Those at the bottom of the chain, where Michael was, had to learn everything themselves. Michael knew that he if he had an opportunity to get into the game but did not know the plays, he would end up right back on the bench. He did not want that to happen.

“I went to school for seven hours a day and then after I would have basketball practice. On top of that, I would have homework in addition to learning an entire playbook,” Michael said.

His efforts paid off. Michael remained on the junior varsity team his sophomore and junior year of high school and made varsity his senior year.

“I never got that many minutes in high school. I rode the bench, but I did get the Daniel Bubser Award for hardest working player which means I pretty much outworked all the guys on the team even though I didn’t play much,” said Michael.

A Step Up

When it came time to go to college at The College of New Jersey, Michael knew he still wanted to play. His father encouraged him to play club basketball. He made the team as a freshman point guard.

At the time, TCNJ was not a part of the National Club Basketball Association (NCBBA). The team went to a few tournaments, but Michael was only invited to half of those, and only got a few minutes here and there to play.

Although he saw little action, Michael enjoyed being part of the team and contributing to its success in any way he could.

Michael, at five feet, nine inches, is still considered undersized for basketball.

“Our average height for our club team is 6’3, so I’m the only guy on the team under 6 foot. I think that’s where the hardworking aspects may have come into place,” Michael said.

He knew to stay at the level demanded of him, he had to work harder. He increased his strength training. He dove after loose balls. During games, Michael worked nonstop. If someone on the opposing team dominated, Michael switched to guard him.

“It all comes back to hustle and out-working people. I always want to get extra possessions for my team whether that’s grabbing an offensive rebound or getting a steal. I have to find ways to help my team win,” Michael said.

“I’ve always been a competitor and I genuinely want to win the game as bad as anything else I want in life,” Michael said. “I like to take the best player out the equation and make the rest of his team beat us. I’m on the court mostly for defensive purposes and I try to make sure that the guy I’m guarding is going to have trouble that game.”

Big Changes, Big Impact

TCNJ expected to play in the NCBBA during Michael’s sophomore year in 2020-2021, but they weren’t able to compete due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

After the cancellation of the basketball season, Michael wanted to help his team however he could. He told the team’s senior president, Joe Dejong, that he could serve in any role except president. When Joe decided to step down prior to graduation, he put Michael in charge — as president.

Michael stepped up to the challenge. As his junior year started, Michael was in charge of tryouts.

“That was pretty stressful since obviously I’m in a position of power as president, but I’m just like everyone else. I’m not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings or cut anyone out, but we had to do it to get a team,” Michael said.

Michael decided to take 25 to 30 players to be in the club program and to practice together, but designate 14 to travel to games.

Michael, however, went beyond his basic duties as president to make everyone on the team feel valued. He reached out to the schools on TCNJ’s schedule to ask if they would have an exhibition game, so the teammates not on the travel team could play against other schools.

Michael recognized the value of adequate playing time for developing players — something he missed growing up.

“They would still be able to showcase their talent and get better, so when they’re older they can play in real games and can continue to carry out the club for years to come,” Michael said.

Michael took charge of team logistics as well. “Michael is the guy who sets everything up and does the hard work to make sure we know where we are playing, where we’re staying, how we are getting there, and so much more,” said Aidan Mastandrea, Michael’s teammate.

“Michael has grown into a great leader with the basketball team and beyond. In any situation, the effort he contributes to the team is unmatched and everyone can always count on him,” said Evan Scarduffa, another teammate.

Michael’s first year as president was a success. He selected a strong team, ranked as high as tenth in the nation in the NCBBA at one point. The Lions finished with a 13-1 conference record and went to regionals as the second seed.

In the first game of the championship tournament, TCNJ played seventh-seeded Syracuse. Michael’s club went into the game confident in themselves and locked in. The team played great in the first half and were up 20 points at half time. The team knew there was a lot of time left in the game, so they had to stay focused.

All went well — until the last ten minutes. Syracuse caught the team off guard and TCNJ started to make little mistakes. Before they knew it, they were only up by 2 points and there was only 8 seconds left in the game.

As Michael described it, “We had a movie-finishing choke.”

After a foul, the Syracuse player made two of the three free throws but missed the third. The ball got tapped around on the miss and ended up in Syracuse’s hands for an easy layup. Syracuse beat TCNJ by one point and the game was over.

Although the 2021-2022 season ended on a disappointing note after a heartbreaking loss, the season itself proved to Michael that his team possessed significant strengths.

Michael believes that the “talent is only going to be better this year. I think we have a real chance to win [in 2022-2023]. The guys who are returning, seem a little more serious. They seem like, ‘we kind of blew that, but we have one more time to really do this.’"

Hard Work Above It All

The team’s hustle, and Michael’s hustle, will be a part of that success.

“I’m used to losing my whole life that’s why when it came to club basketball and we were 13-1 in our conference, it was different,” Michael said. “Once I was able to start playing club basketball, it gave me more confidence and everyone was rooting with me. I ended up becoming a lot better of a player because of it and I am still getting better to this day. I have confidence inside me and a team that has my back and trusts me especially because I am the president,” Michael said.

“The more you hustle, the more opportunities you’ll get and better things will come to you,” Michael said.

“Michael’s hard work and focus makes his teammates want to work harder and harder and become the best version of themselves. He is constantly bringing energy and fire into each and every player,” said Jared Bolling, Michael’s teammate. “We wouldn’t be the team we are without him.”

Michael’s achievements are a testament to his tenacity. TCNJ’s club team reflects his dogged spirit as they seek to outperform their prior year record heading into the 2022-2023 season.

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