“We were sitting in there before the game and one of the coaches always brings in the numbers of the starters, and I see 5, 11, 25, and 10, and I’m like, ‘Ten? Who the hell? Shit, that’s Jack.’”
That’s how Fred Hoiberg learned his son, Jack, was making his first career start for Michigan State—against his team.
Jack is a redshirt sophomore walk-on for the Spartans who had appeared in 10 games and scored 15 points this season heading into Thursday’s game at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Jack didn’t know himself until not too long before Fred heard the news,
“That was pretty cool,” said Jack, who crashed his dad’s post-game press conference at the suggestion of his mom, Carol. “I appreciate Coach Izzo for that. He called me in 50 minutes before the game, 40 minutes before the game and told me. I had no idea. He said he had been thinking about it for a few days and was sorry he didn’t tell me earlier. It was cool to be out there in the starting lineup.”
Hoiberg played the first two minutes, missing a corner 3 but following up the shot to grab the rebound and kick it out to Cassius Winston for a triple. Tom Izzo said he originally considered the idea a couple days before the game, but talked himself out of it with the Spartans—losers of four of their last five—in a bit of a rut. But on the bus ride to the arena, he changed his mind.
“I told my staff ‘I think I’m going to start Jack because it’s the right thing to do,’” Izzo said. “This kid has given me almost three years, every single day. I’m big on memory-making moments, I’m really big on that. When I leave there, that’s what I hope I have is a bunch of great memories of certain moments. For Fred and Carol, just for them letting me have him, and for Jack, the kid’s a pretty good player. You saw at the end he made some plays. I let him go home last night; Carol probably won’t feed him next time he comes home … I’m so proud of that kid and what he’s done, the kind of student, the kind of person and the kind of player. Every day he brings it.
“It wasn’t just ‘do it for Fred or Carol,’ it was ‘do it for Jack’ because it’s the right thing to do. If we would have lost, it was the right thing to do. It had nothing to do with that because he deserved it and I’m proud of him, happy for him and I think the players were all happy for him.”
Hoiberg checked out with Michigan State up 5-2, and he returned to play the final three minutes with the Spartans up by 20. He knocked down a pull-up mid-range jumper and a step-back long 2, finishing with four points and two assists.
“I was glad I got to go back in at the end and try to hit a couple of shots … It was weird,” Jack said. “It didn’t really feel like it when I was out there, but then I’d look down over at their bench and realize that this was my first time ever not rooting for my dad’s teams, which was different. It was fun. I’m sure it wasn’t as fun for him. It was a cool experience.”
Fred said it was “a blast,” with just a hint of sarcasm. As a disciple of new-aged basketball and the analytics-driven quest for efficiency, he didn’t like Jack’s shot-selection but ultimately was happy to see his son have a moment like that.
“That is really cool of Izzo to give him that opportunity to come out here,” Fred said. “Obviously, he had a ton of family in town. We had a post-up call for Jervay [Green] on the first play, and I just envisioned them having Jack guarding Jervay, like I was going to go right at my kid on that first situation.”
Instead, Jack found himself isolated against Cam Mack, who took him off the dribble and scored at the basket on Nebraska’s first possession.
“I’m proud of him,” Hoiberg continued. “He did a phenomenal job. He’s taking too many long 2s—he hit two long 2s. That step-back at the end of the game, he’s kind of mastered that shot. He hit the big one on CBS a year ago against Ohio State and hit this one tonight. You take the competitiveness out of it—obviously, we wanted to go out and do everything we could to play consistently and win the game—but when you strip that all down and have the family component like we did tonight and the amount of family we had in the building—both sets of grandparents were here, his aunt and uncle were here from Omaha, obviously, his immediate family with his [younger] twin brothers and his mother.
“It was a really special moment for all of us. I’m sure we’ll all be sitting around, hopefully when he’s coaching and I’m retired drinking a beer, and talking about this moment.”
The 86-65 loss was Nebraska’s 11th straight, but in the midst of a season of disappointment Fred and the Hoiberg family got a chance to share a moment that was bigger than basketball.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.