Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Hoiberg Impressive In Husker Debut

By Brian Rosenthal

No matter what Fred Hoiberg said Tuesday during his introductory news conference at Memorial Stadium, his words surely put a smile on the faces of fans, alums, returning players and recruits.

A confident and poised Hoiberg, introduced by Director of Athletics Bill Moos as the new Nebraska men’s basketball coach, provided detailed answers, while measuring the right amount of dry humor, before some 300 spectators and a nation-wide television audience.

“The vision that Bill laid out to me when we started talking about this opportunity, I see real potential here to have long-term success,” Hoiberg said. “A lot of that has to do with the facilities that are here.”

Hoiberg saw those facilities firsthand at each of his two previous coaching stops. During his time as coach at Iowa State, where he played in the mid-1990s and earned the well-known nickname “The Mayor,” Hoiberg brought his team to Lincoln for a closed scrimmage. That was in 2011, the first year of the Hendricks Training Complex.

When he became head coach of the Chicago Bulls, he brought his NBA team to Pinnacle Bank Arena for an exhibition game against the Dallas Mavericks. He marveled then at the relatively new arena, and did again on Tuesday.

“You get the recruits on campus and they see these beautiful facilities, we’re going to have a chance,” Hoiberg said. “We’re going to have a chance at any kid that walks in here.”

If he needs something else to attract recruits, Hoiberg can point to the nine – yes, nine – players he sent to the NBA during his five years at Iowa State.

Or maybe it’s the style of play that recruits will most appreciate. Hoiberg presented an attractive response to that question, too.

“We try to play with great pace. That was one thing we always tried to have,” Hoiberg said, noting his Iowa State teams did that in various ways. “The one thing that is consistent is the fast-paced exciting brand of basketball.”

And for anyone wondering whether Hoiberg may be using Nebraska as a stepping stone to return to the NBA, or to perhaps another college team, he nixed that notion in an unsolicited manner.

“One thing my wife and I talked about, we want this to be our last stop,” said Hoiberg, noting he talked to other schools with coaching vacancies, too. “We’re excited about this. A lot of it is because of our family history here. But maybe as important are the facilities and other resources we have, and the fan support, which is second to none.”

Hoiberg actually opened his news conference by giving a detailed history of his family’s connections with Nebraska.

While most Husker fans probably know that his maternal grandfather, Jerry Bush, coached the Nebraska basketball team in the late 1950s and early 1960s, few may realize that his paternal grandfather, Otto Hoiberg, was a history professor at Nebraska for some 30 years. Hoiberg said he was the smartest, most worldly person he knew, as he was able to spend time with his grandfather in his later years, unlike Bush, who died when Hoiberg was only 3 years old.

But Hoiberg, born in Lincoln and the son of two Nebraska alums, heard all the stories about his grandfather’s coaching career, including what he said may be the most monumental victory in Nebraska history, a 43-41 win over Wilt Chamberlain-led Kansas. That came only a couple of weeks after the Huskers had lost 102-46 to the Jayhawks.

“We have great ties to this state, and university,” said Hoiberg, who, at the end of his news conference, received a framed copy of the original news release announcing his grandfather’s hiring as Nebraska’s coach.

As for current players, Hoiberg briefly met with them after he arrived in Lincoln on Tuesday. He said he talked to them about the opportunity they have going forward, and that he challenged them with the amount of work it takes to make the NCAA Tournament.

He also referenced how he was able to play 10 years in the NBA.

“I didn’t play because I was the most athletic, and I didn’t play because I was the most gifted,” Hoiberg said. “I played because I was the hardest worker. Nobody was going to outwork me.”

Hoiberg said he expects the same from his players, too.

One returning player who attended the news conference, Isaiah Roby, said he’d talked to Hoiberg over the phone in previous days about Roby’s future plans. As of now, Roby, who has one year of eligibility remaining, has entered his name in the NBA Draft, but he said he’s unsure of whether he will stay in the draft or return.

“Having a coach who’s had a proven track record in college is obviously huge,” Roby said. “That’s going to be an impact. Obviously, my dream is to play in the NBA, and he’s a guy that can help me out with that, whether that’s coming back and playing under him or leaving this year. He’s said that any way he can help, he’s willing to do it for me.”

Hoiberg will hit the road Wednesday recruiting. He’s already talked with the Huskers’ three signed recruits, Jervay Green, Mika Adams-Woods and Akol Arop.

“That is going to be a big thing this week, getting out and seeing those guys and talking to them and hopefully securing their commitments,” Hoiberg said. “I understand, it is tough when a change is made, and they all have great questions for me. The important thing now is to get in front of them and to start building a relationship where they’re comfortable with us and with our current staff.”

Hoiberg remembers his first year at Iowa State, when he inherited a roster of some five scholarship players, yet molded the group into a team that produced a 16-16 record, which he said was respectable.

The following year, Hoiberg had the Cyclones in the NCAA Tournament. While he’s careful to predict the same results here, he’s excited about the potential.

“I’m going into this with an open mind, and I know this is a group of guys who are going to work extremely hard,” he said. “I loved the meeting today; you looked up, and everybody had eye contact.”

Hoiberg said he’ll try to put the right system together to take advantage of the current players’ skill set. Regarding recruiting, he knows he developed a reputation at Iowa State for recruiting transfers, but said he after initially following that formula, he was able to attract top high school talent based on the immediate success they’d had.

“We just want to get the best talent on the floor, however that may be,” he said. “I think if we come in here and we work, my message is the same for every team – if we’re the hardest working and the most together team, we’re going to have a chance, and that’s what we’re going to strive to do.”

Reach Brian at brosenthal@huskers.com or follow him on Twitter @GBRosenthal.

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