Felix Von Hofe can shoot the lights out, but he also can light up a room.
His comfort zone stretches halfway around the world, the distance he traveled four years ago to play basketball at Eastern Washington.
“He’s just so likable, he wins everybody over at hello,” said EWU coach Jim Hayford, who got more than a three-point shooter when he brought Von Hofe from Melbourne, Australia, to Cheney.
Von Hofe has embraced American culture with arms outstretched. He’s making friends out of football players and students who don’t even attend the games.
“I even make friends in the cafeteria,” Von Hofe said.
As friends back home send him pictures from the beach, Von Hofe is trudging through the snow in a soggy pair of Air Jordans, but says “I wouldn’t trade this for anything in the world.”
Hayford’s Australian pipeline began with Venky Jois, but it was Von Hofe who made it flow. This year there are five Aussies on the Eastern roster, and Von Hofe – now a senior and two-year captain – is their leader in word and deed.
“He’s a joy to coach, and he’s really embraced and loved the role of captain,” Hayford said. “He’s got a lot of personal maturity.”
And a few quirks. Von Hofe doesn’t carry a driver’s license or even a wallet. “He’s always in the moment, fully engaged with whoever he’s talking with,” Hayford said.
The first big moment came in Von Hofe’s sophomore year, two years ago in Missoula in the semifinals of the Big Sky Conference tournament. National scoring leader Tyler Harvey had lit up Idaho in the first round, and Sacramento State was determined that Harvey wouldn’t beat them.
Time and again, the ball went to Von Hofe, who went off for a career-high 23 points and put the Eagles on the brink of what would become their first NCAA Tournament in 11 years.
“That was definitely a highlight,” said Von Hofe, now the second-leading three-point shooter in school history behind Harvey. “That was also my first game that I had family,” said Von Hofe, who had an uncle in attendance.
It was family that made home so special, but also that first year in Cheney seem like four, said Von Hofe, who will return home for a spell after he graduates this spring.
Until then, he’s still living in the moment, which means leading an Eastern team that Von Hofe believes has a shot at a return trip to the NCAAs.
“The great thing is, I’m feeling those same vibes with this team,” Von Hofe said. “That (2014-15) was a very good team, but we have arguably as much talent this year and this is a championship-caliber team with the defense we’re playing.”
That’s a credit to Hayford and his staff, but also the upperclassmen. Von Hofe has stepped up his defense and he’s getting three rebounds per game.
More important, the Eagles are 12-7 overall and tied for second place in the Big Sky going into Saturday’s home game against Southern Utah.
“I liked it when we were scoring 110 points a game,” but this is great too,” Von Hofe said.
That’s still Von Hofe’s preference, especially if he gets a dozen good looks every night. “I understand what my role is for this team to win. … I need to shoot, and sometimes I shoot too many.”
This year, Von Hofe leads the Eagles with 58 three-pointers made out of 147 shots, a 39.5 clip that’s second on the team behind Cody Benzel (28-for-68, for 41.2 percent).
With 224 career treys, Von Hofe also figures to become EWU’s all-time lead by the time his career ends. Harvey had 260, though he played just three seasons.
Currently 14th on the Big Sky career list, Von Hofe is a cinch to finish in the top five.
A natural shooter with a high release – Hayford has called him “world class” – Von Hofe gets a bit introspective off the court.
Recalling his missed 3-point shot in a recent loss to Montana, Von Hofe said, “if you’re playing for a team that’s below .500 and the game is on the line, that’s a big shot.”
“A single game can be the decision maker on whether someone keeps their job,” Von Hofe said.
That’s not a problem for Hayford, who’s built the Eagles into an every-year contender.
“He’s definitely stern, but he’s a fantastic leader,” Von Hofe said of Hayford.
“It all goes back to accountability – everything you do has to be at a certain level … the professors, coaches and everyone want to make you the best you can be,” Von Hofe said.
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