Fred Hoiberg made his debut on the Husker Sports Network on Thursday night, joining host Greg Sharpe for an hour to talk about his program and field calls from fans.
The new Nebraska coach has had a whirlwind first few weeks in Lincoln from his introductory press conference to hitting the road recruiting to hiring his staff and more. Last weekend, he was introduced to the 85,000-plus fans at Nebraska’s spring game at Memorial Stadium.
“It’s been awesome, Greg, just the support that we’ve seen since we’ve been here … To be out there with the spring game and be a part of that in front of 90,000 people was just incredible, that they go out there to watch basically a scrimmage,” Hoiberg said. “It was good to have recruits in town to see that type of atmosphere and the type of support that they’d have here at Nebraska.”
Hoiberg has also thrown out the first pitch at a Nebraska baseball game, and he told a story about catching a foul ball from Darin Erstad when he attended a game at the Metrodome while playing for the Timberwolves. He also went golfing with Larry the Cable Guy which he said has been his kids’ favorite part of his first month on the job because they grew up with Mater, the tow truck the Cable Guy voiced in Pixar’s “Cars.”
Hoiberg also touched on each of the members of his coaching staff, offering details on his relationships with each of them and describing what they bring to the table.
“It’s one of the most important things that you do is to hire the right staff that not only can help you get players but have great energy with skill development and can help you prepare for games,” Hoiberg said. “I think we've got as good as anybody.”
Hoiberg said he first hired Matt Abdelmassih as an intern when he was an assistant general manager with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“Matt was somebody that came in and blew me away right from the beginning” Hoiberg said. “He just has a way of connecting with people. He was kind of my right-hand man. I had a lot of responsibilities with that team — draft preparation, did some things with the salary cap as far as management — and Matt was right there with me. I just saw the type of worker that he was and when I got the job at Iowa State, he was a guy that I brought down with me. He helped us right off the bat get guys like Royce White and some of those other players that helped us get things turned around pretty quickly.”
Abdelmassih was Hoiberg’s first hire at Nebraska and now he will try to do the same thing in Lincoln he did at Iowa State as the Huskers have five scholarships to fill.
He didn’t have to go far to find his second assistant as Hoiberg retained Armon Gates from Tim Miles’ staff. Hoiberg said he’s quickly developed a good relationship with Gates and has been impressed with Gates’ energy and with the way he’s operated during workouts with the players.
Hoiberg said getting Doc Sadler back to Lincoln to round out his staff was “huge.” He said things fell through with another candidate so he just started up a conversation with Sadler, an old friend, and they “made it happen.”
Hoiberg’s final hire was special assistant Bobby Lutz, someone who played a big part in his rise as a coach at Iowa State. It was his first coaching job — outside of filling in for his daughter’s eighth grade team’s coach at one point — so he wanted to bring in somebody with great experience to be on his staff.
“Bobby had just come out of 12 years at the University of Charlotte,” Hoiberg said. “I think nine times he had been to the postseason and was a guy that had a very similar philosophy as I did as far as playing up-tempo and getting out and playing with pace.”
Other News and Notes:
>> The first question for Hoiberg from a caller concerned Isaiah Roby and his pre-draft process.
Hoiberg said he has remained in consistent contact with Roby and has even worked him out individually a few times. Hoiberg said he has had good conversations with the 6-foot-8 forward.
“My biggest thing is I told him, ‘I would support you any way that I can,’ and I’m going to try to help him as much as I can.”
Hoiberg said Roby has found a good agent to help him through the process thanks to the rule changes that allow potential draft candidates to hire representation without compromising their eligibility. Hoiberg said some of the workouts he’s done with Roby have been designed to prepare him for what he’s going to see in his upcoming NBA workouts.
Hoiberg said he’ll get a lot of opportunities because of his size and his skill set, and once they gather all the information they can over the next handful of weeks they’ll sit down and talk through it all.
>> Hoiberg said he is a fan of those rule changes that allow for representation during the pre-draft process as well as the ability now for teams to pay for players’ travel for workouts compared to how it was previously where they had to pay their own way. However, he said he wishes the window wasn’t so long because it leaves the team in limbo and makes it tough to build a team. The NCAA’s deadline to withdraw from the draft and maintain college eligibility is May 29.
In terms of on-the-court rules, Hoiberg said he likes the quarter system women’s college basketball uses as well as a shorter shot-clock after offensive rebounds. He’s in favor of any changes that increases possessions because it helps make the game more exciting. For a similar reason — in the name of entertainment — he’s in favor of the NBA rule of advancing the ball to halfcourt after timeouts on the far end.
>> Hoiberg said it was “very important” to retain Western Nebraska Community College guard Jervay Green in the 2019 class and he credited the previous staff for recognizing his talent.
“The first order of business was to get out and see him in Scottsbluff,” Hoiberg said. “We had a great conversation. He was here on campus last week; he was able to take another official visit because of the change. We sat in my office and talked about a lot of things. We watched film. We talked to the people in his circle that he was really close to that he had on campus with him and we were able to get him on board, which is huge. He’s a great talent. He can play multiple positions. He can really guard. The best thing he does is play downhill and those are the type of guys that we’re looking for.”
>> Hoiberg said he has watched film of Nebraska’s other 2019 signee, Omaha Creighton Prep’s Akol Arop, and was really impressed by his athleticism.
“If you’re going to play at a high-major program and in a great conference like the Big Ten, the athleticism is a good place to start. He has that,” Hoiberg said. “He’s physically very gifted. He’s got a good shot — we’re going to work on that every day when he gets here … try to take that to the next level. But he’s another guy that I think can play both forward positions and a guy that has a very high ceiling.”
>> Playing off Green and Arop as multi-position players, Hoiberg said he uses a mostly position-less system. The more versatile players they can get, the better off they are in his mind.
“My best teams had five guys on the floor that could make a shot and make a play and that’s what we’re looking at right now and trying to build it that way,” Hoiberg said. “If you can get an athletic big that can roll to the rim and put pressure, as long as we have spacing, try to draw two to the ball and play on the second side. If we do that then hopefully we’ll get something good accomplished.”
He praised the work Tanner Borchardt did for the Huskers last season but said he prefers more skilled bigs over the traditional space eaters. Forntcourt player sin his system need to be able to run the floor and shoot the ball. He acknowledges that teams need size to compete in the Big Ten, but fit is more important for him than pure stature. He said he’s confident in Doc Sadler’s ability to scheme up an effective defense no matter what their personnel is, even if they’re undersized.
>> Hoiberg said he got a chance to talk with Tom Osborne at a recent football practice. Osborne told him he wouldn’t have made him a tight end had he committed to play football at Nebraska, but Hoiberg said he knew he wouldn’t have ever beaten out Tommie Frazier at quarterback.
>> Hoiberg said Bill Moos’ gift for him at his introductory press conference, the original press release from his grandfather’s hiring at Nebraska, was cool.
“Back then they put his height and his weight and his golf handicap in his press release,” Hoiberg quipped. “But that was cool. That’s going to be the first thing that I hang on my wall in my office.”
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.