Photo by Allyssa Hynes/Nebraska Communications

NU Notes: Hankins Thrilled To Have Hoiberg Aboard

By Brian Rosenthal

No fewer than ten reasons immediately popped into the head of Mark Hankins as to why Fred Hoiberg would fit perfectly at Nebraska.

Among them is a plaque on the ground in front of Hankins’ office at the NU Coliseum. It’s of Jerry Bush, Hoiberg’s grandfather, who coached the Nebraska basketball team in that very building in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The other reasons stem from a friendship between Hankins and Hoiberg that dates more than 25 years.

A native of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, Hankins attended Iowa State University and met Hoiberg, who grew up in Ames, Iowa, while playing basketball at the school’s rec center. Their girlfriends at the time – Hoiberg’s wife today, in fact – were good friends, and eventually, Hoiberg and Hankins shared the same apartment.

“I always knew he was fond of Nebraska,” said Hankins, the Nebraska men’s golf coach. “When I lived with him, I knew he was from here, his parents worked here. Now his brother lives in Omaha, his agent has a connection to Scott Frost

“He just came into my mind right away.”

Hankins told Nebraska Director of Athletics Bill Moos about his friend and former roommate, a story Moos shared Tuesday when he introduced Hoiberg as Nebraska’s newest men’s basketball coach.

Turns out, this isn’t the first time Hankins casually dropped Hoiberg’s name to an athletic director.

When he was head golf coach at Iowa, Hankins visited with Iowa State Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard in the parking lot before an Iowa State football game. Pollard was trying to convince Hankins to return to Iowa State to lead its golf program. Hankins, meanwhile, happy with his job in Iowa City, tried steering the conversation toward Hoiberg, and how he’d be a perfect fit to coach Iowa State’s basketball team.

“Again, I thought it was kind of a no-brainer, because Iowa State, since Tim Floyd, had kind of lost their way,” Hankins said. “They needed someone to get the fans kind of excited, and Fred was the perfect guy for that.”

Hoiberg had played in the NBA for 10 years and was serving in the front office for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He’d played for well-known coaches like Johnny Orr, Floyd (both at Iowa State and with the Chicago Bulls), Larry Bird, Larry Brown and Bill Cartwright.

“He had a lot of background,” Hankins said. “He didn’t have a coaching background, but he had a ton of coaching and experience, and obviously he knew Ames.”

Of course, Pollard hired Hoiberg, who elevated the Iowa State program to a level of success it’s still sustaining today.

Over the years, Hankins and Hoiberg have remained close friends.

“I talk to him all the time,” Hankins said. “I talked to him when he was getting beat up by the Bulls. We talk basketball, we talk golf. His kids are golfers. He sends me videos of his sons hitting golf shots, ‘What do you think?’ ”

That includes Jack Hoiberg, a walk-on basketball player for Michigan State, who’s playing in this weekend’s Final Four in Minneapolis.

“I know Jack, his older son, very well,” Hankins said. “I was able to watch him play golf and grow up. I know his entire family. They were obviously here for the Michigan State game.”

Hankins, in his first year at Nebraska, is among the five head coaches Moos has hired in his year-plus on the job.

“I keep telling people this is a bigger Iowa State – not bigger in numbers, but you’ve got the Big Ten Conference, it’s a very similar vibe, being an agricultural, engineering, science school, with a pretty passionate fan base,” Hankins said. “I think Pinnacle Bank Arena is amazing. We put 15,000 people in there without a problem.”

Hankins said Hoiberg had other coaching opportunities – he mentioned the Timberwolves and UCLA – and that Hoiberg didn’t have to return to coaching immediately.

But Lincoln, he said, made sense, just as Ames once did. Now, Hankins is eager to his friend work the same magic.

“At the end of the day, it had to be the right fit for him,” Hankins said, “and I couldn’t be happier to have him aboard.

“When you have his combination of skills, and you’re motivated by a fan base that really wants to win, whether that’s Iowa State or Nebraska, you will do everything you can to work as hard as you can to get it done.”

 

Making Strides

Hankins has already shown signs of working his own magic for the Nebraska men’s golf team.

Earlier this spring, for example, the Huskers entered the Big Ten Match Play Championships in Palm Coast, Florida, as the No. 14 seed – out of 14 teams.

Nebraska emerged with a fourth-place finish, by far its highest finish at the event since joining the Big Ten in 2011. The Huskers’ previous highest finish had been ninth.

Hankins called it “a concerted effort” to achieve that performance. He gave a nod to a pair of in-state graduate transfers, Hebron native Jay Cottam (Nebraska-Kearney) and Laurel native Mitch Klooz (Liberty).

“They’ve been working really hard, kind of setting the standard for hard work, really,” Hankins said. “They’ve both been very positive influences.”

Cottam won three out of the four head-to-head matchups he competed in, while Klooz finished 2-2 in the tournament.

Overall, Hankins said his team has been receptive to a new coach.

“First of all, we have a bunch of smart kids, four seniors,” he said. “They’ve been around long enough to understand what Nebraska is about.”

Also, every player on the roster has competed in at least one tournament. That includes Tanner Owen (pictured above), this week's Big Ten Men's Golfer of the Week.

“That,” Hankins said, “kind of shows you the parity on this team.”

Next up for Nebraska is the April 13 Husker Invitational at Firethorn Golf Club in Lincoln, a rare home meet for the Huskers.

How rare?

This will be the first home meet for this group of seniors.

“That’s going to be a special opportunity for them to not only play in front of a crowd,” Hankins said, “but like I tell them, is there any better opportunity to win a college golf tournament than your home tournament? You really don’t have excuses. You know the golf course. You’ve got a week and a half to practice it, straight.”

 

Last Chance

Alex Davis remembers older players always warning him about time going fast, and now more than ever, he understands.

Davis said he can’t believe his senior year is upon him, but that he’s in position to contribute with his strongest season to date at outside linebacker.

The Florida native said he’s made significant strides, and feels quicker, faster. He’s also stronger in the mental aspect of the game, knowing and understanding his assignments better.

“I just feel a lot more comfortable,” Davis said. “Just body type, I had to get my body right. Movement in space. Like I said, I feel way more comfortable.”

Davis came to Nebraska as a defensive end and has had to adjust from strictly pass-rushing situations to also playing in coverage. To that end, he’s focused on slimming his body frame and increasing his speed.

“I feel like I was a little bit heavy,” Davis said. “It’s really knowing what I’m capable of and really working on moving in space. If you’re not used to dropping back, it’s just something else to learn.

“All of the workouts we do help with football in general. It’s just actually doing it in a live game situation, really moving and going and covering somebody, really dropping and breaking on the ball.

“I can tell a really big difference from when I first started until now. Night and day.”

 

Touching Them All

The Nebraska baseball team faces Purdue in a three-game game weekend series at Haymarket Park, where the Huskers are 5-0 on the young season.

Nebraska is coming off a 7-0 victory at Kansas State on Tuesday, when sophomore Jaxon Hallmark drove in four first-inning runs with a grand slam home run.

A grand slam, inside-the-park home run.

It came after K-State issued three walks, and Hallmark capitalized with a line drive to right field that rolled to the fence after the right fielder made an unsuccessful diving attempt for a catch.

“Off the bat, I was thinking two RBIs,” Hallmark said, “and then I saw the guy dive, and as soon as I saw it get past him, I was like, ‘Alright, I don’t have a home run this year, like, this is my chance.’ So I was like, ‘I’m going, I’m going. No matter what, I’m going.’ ”

Hallmark said everyone in the dugout was “fired up” and jokingly asked if he needed oxygen.

Well, actually…

“My chest was hurting,” Hallmark said. “I needed a lot of water, and I needed to sit down for a couple of minutes.”

Hallmark, now with four extra-base hits this season, is batting .271 entering the weekend.

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

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