Photo Credit: John Peterson

Dream Becomes Reality as Sam Hoiberg Commits to Walk On at Nebraska

March 26, 2021

When Fred Hoiberg began his coaching career in 2010, his son Sam began dreaming of playing for him. That was more than a decade ago.

On Tuesday, Sam made that dream a reality as he announced on Twitter that he has committed to walk on at Nebraska next season.

“It feels great,” Sam told Hail Varsity. “I’ve had so much to think about with all the COVID stuff happening. I just had to be patient all this time. I finally, about a week ago, came to the decision that this would be best for me. Now it just feels really good to know what I’m doing.”

Sam spent his middle school and first couple years of high school in Chicago while Fred coached the Bulls. When Fred accepted the job at Nebraska, he uprooted his family and brought them to Lincoln to start over again. That move wasn’t easy on Sam, especially considering the timing of the move. However, now Lincoln has become home.

“It was really hard,” Sam said. “I had a lot of great friends in my old town. Basketball was going really well there. Moving to a place like Nebraska — Nebraska is known as a really boring state or whatever. It was hard for me. But after a while, the people here are great and I just got used to it and I really like it here, so I’m excited to stay.”

After the Hoiberg’s arrived in Lincoln, Sam and his twin brother Charlie enrolled at Pius X High School. Both Hoiberg’s were two-year impact players for the Thunderbolts with Sam starting at point guard the last two seasons.

“It was great,” Sam said. “We really chose the school based on talking to the coaches, seeing the playing style and stuff. I think we really fit in with Pius’ system and it was a really great experience playing for coaches that really helped us get a lot better.”

Charlie played off the bench as a sharpshooter behind a talented senior in Kolbe Rada last year, but this year the Hoibergs were Pius’ top two scorers. Sam averaged 14.9 points, 4.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.0 steals per game while leading the Thunderbolts to an 18-4 record and the Class A State Tournament.

Sam Hoiberg (2) dribbles the ball against Millard West Wildcats Tuesday, March 9, 2021, during the quarter final game of the NSAA Boys Basketball Championships at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by John S. Peterson.

His senior season was even more important because he missed out on the opportunity to have a 17U AAU season. Sam and Charlie planned to play with their old club team back in Chicago last summer, but the COVID-19 pandemic led to the cancellation of the season.

“That last season would have been huge for getting recruited and to not have that affected the whole process a lot, obviously,” Sam said. “I have no doubt in my mind I would have had offers to D-I schools if I had had that season. But at the end of the day, I just really think going to Nebraska is what I wanted to do this whole time and I’m really glad I made this decision.”

Sam listed Colgate, Boise State, North Dakota State and UMKC as programs he had been in contact with, but eventually he realized there was only one place he wanted to be.

“As I was getting recruited by other schools, I was looking at them, but as time went on I realized I didn’t really want to go anywhere else,” Sam said. “I still had other options, like waiting to see if I could earn scholarships, but I was ready to commit to play for him because that’s really what I wanted to do.”

Obviously Sam could discuss his options with his father, but he also had another valuable resource as he weighed Division I walk-on opportunities against potential scholarship offers: his older brother Jack. Jack spent three years as a walk-on for Tom Izzo at Michigan State before earning a scholarship heading into the 2020-21 season. Earlier this week, he announced he was entering the transfer portal.

“I’ve been talking to him a lot about it,” Sam said. “He’s really confident in me and my game. He thinks I’ll be able to be a contributor here, especially with his help because he’s been through it. I’ve just been talking to him a lot about it and he thinks it’s a great decision.”

Sam Hoiberg (2) makes a 3-point shot over Millard West senior James Conway (23) to tie the score with three seconds left Tuesday, March 9, 2021, during the quarter final game of the NSAA Boys Basketball Championships at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Photo by John S. Peterson.

Sam said the last time Fred really coached his brother and him was in kindergarten, well before Hoiberg took the job at Iowa State. After Chicago fired Fred, he spent some of his newfound free time running some of the twins’ team’s practices.

“That was honestly my best season I ever had was when he was coaching us,”  Sam said.

Charlie’s basketball career is over as he’s set to enroll at TCU as a regular student, but now Sam will get another chance to play under his father. He’s focusing on improving a few key areas of his game to give himself the best shot of contributing once he officially joins the Huskers.

“I know for sure I’ve just got to become a knockdown shooter that can make every open shot I look at, and that’s going to be key for me to being able to eventually being a contributor for this team,” Sam said. “Also, ball-handling and decision making, to be a true point guard.”

The best part of Sam’s game is his ability to get downhill and finish strong around the basket. He’s been more of a streaky shooter than a consistent one at Pius, shooting 34% from 3 as a junior and 30% this season.

Up next for Sam, however, is one more chance to represent the Thunderbolts in the Metro High School Boys All-Star Game on Friday night.

“Yeah, I’m really excited about that,” Sam said. “I told Chucky [Hepburn] he’s got to throw me some lobs, though.”

(Yes, Sam can dunk pretty effortlessly, even though he’s only listed at 6-foot.)

Sam will play on the White team alongside the likes of Hepburn, Millard North’s Hunter Sallis and Millard West’s Evan Meyersick (a Nebraska football preferred walk-on commit). The game is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Bellevue East High School in Omaha.

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