Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Fred Hoiberg on his Senior Leaders and More from Big Ten Media Days

October 12, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS — Fred Hoiberg was back in his old stomping grounds at Big Ten Media Days in Minneapolis on Wednesday to represent his current program alongside two seniors that will play pivotal roles this season.

In typical Hoiberg fashion, the Huskers’ head coach opened his session at the podium on Wednesday morning with a self-deprecating reference to his time as a Timberwolf (and a Kevin Garnett name drop for good measure).

“It’s awesome to be back here in the Twin Cities where I have some of my greatest memories as a basketball player and also started my career as a front office executive with the Minnesota Timberwolves,” Hoiberg said.

Hoiberg reiterated one of his recurring themes, highlighting how the roster has true positional size for the first time during his Nebraska tenure and praising its collective toughness and length.

“The two guys that have really set the tone for our team are here in the building representing our program today in Derrick Walker and Sam Griesel, two guys that had the opportunities to start their professional careers and decided to come back because they wanted to be a part of something at Nebraska basketball that had never been done before,” Hoiberg continued. “Those two every day are setting the tone for our team as well as guys like Emmanuel Bandoumel, who we got as a two-time back-to-back double-digit scorer the last two seasons at SMU, one of the greatest leaders that I’ve ever had.” 

That is high praise considering some of the players Hoiberg coached at Iowa State, including the likes of Monté Morris, Nah Long and Matt Thomas. Walker, Griesel and Bandoumel are setting the tone in practice, and the others ore following along.

“Every day these guys step on the floor, they compete,” Hoiberg said. “I do know that this is a team that our fan base will be able to rally behind just because of the makeup and the character of this group.”

Hoiberg cited the team’s 4-10 record in two-possession games in the final five minutes last year and how that contributed to the team’s 10-23 record. 

“We lost some heartbreakers, missed free throws, missed block-outs, some things that could have gotten us over the hump,” Hoiberg said. “If you’re confident, you find a way to win those close ones. By losing our close games early, that had us on the wrong side. Once we got it going at the end of the year, that’s what I envisioned that team, was hoping that team to come together.”

Hoiberg’s focusing on making sure his team doesn’t fall into that rut of failing in close games again early in the season.

“Our biggest message to this team is really focusing on and going out and doing the little things, finding a way to get over the hump on those games early in the season to build confidence to where you find a way to win those games. I’ve been on teams — I give you the example of the Timberwolves team that I referenced earlier. If we were within five or six points in the last three minutes of the game, we knew we were going to win. That’s what confidence does for you.”

Hoiberg’s teams at Iowa State won the majority of those close games too, and now he has to find a way to get Nebraska over that hump.

“You’re in so many close grind-out battles, especially in this league, you’ve got to find a way to get those close ones. If you can do that, that’s what builds character, toughness, confidence, so you can be competing for a post-season spot at the end of the year.”

Griesel, who grew up a Nebraska fan in Lincoln, has played an instrumental part in the team’s offseason preparation for those close late-game situations. Hoiberg said that all he talked about during his official visit was winning and wanting to get the program to where it’s never been.

“The chemistry that Sam and the others have built by spending time with each other off the floor, which again is very important when you’re playing in close games, to have a trust level,” Hoiberg said. “These guys genuinely care for each other. Sam has been a big part of that, those other guys that I talked about with Derrick, Emmanuel, Wilhelm [Breidenbach]. We’ve got a group of guys that will go to battle with each other every night.

“Sam’s passion for the program is rubbing off on our other players because he’s been there, seen it, he grew up in it and he wants to see this thing be successful.”

Hoiberg understands that good feelings in the offseason means nothing and that they have to back it up once the games start, but for now, he signed off with a simple message.

“I think we have a group of players that our fan base can be proud of.”

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