NEW YORK – It is a simple, but effective recruiting pitch.
“I played in the NBA. I know how to get there. I know how to get you there.”
Of the 68 coaches who took teams to this year’s NCAA tournament, only nine ever played in an NBA game, and only six played in over 100. Two of them match wits and players tonight in an NCAA East Regional semifinal at Madison Square Garden when Iowa State plays Connecticut.
UConn’s Kevin Ollie played in 662 NBA games. ISU’s Fred Hoiberg played in 541.
“It definitely gets a good amount of respect from us,” Iowa State guard Naz Long said about his coach. “He’s been there.”
“When I came down to Iowa State for my recruiting visit,” said Cyclone freshman guard Monte Morris of Flint, Mich., "he chopped up a lot of film and just showed me the type of ways I could be successful in the offense, the plays that can get me in the right flow. The spacing we use is NBA-style.”
It doesn’t take a trained basketball eye to recognize Hoiberg’s offense bears a lot more resemblance to the NBA variety than those employed by most of his college peers.
“I spent more years in that league than I did in college,” Hoiberg said. “I had 14 great years in the NBA, 10 as a player and four as a front office executive. And that’s the style I know.
“Even going back to college, Johnny Orr’s uptempo style more related to an NBA style of play.”
Hoiberg has been ISU’s coach for four years. He has sent Diante Garrett, Royce White and Chris Babb to the NBA. Current seniors Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane may get there next season.
There isn’t a recruit who doesn’t want to hear about good paths to that league.
“I think being out there on the floor at the highest level does give you a little credibility with these guys,” Hoiberg said.
“I remember when Larry Bird got the job (as coach when Hoiberg was with the Indiana Pacers). You walked into that locker room, you would listen to him. Kevin McHale, the same way.”
Hoiberg and Ollie survived in basketball’s best league without being among the best players on their teams. Hoiberg played 10 seasons before retiring at 33 because he needed open-heart surgery. Ollie played for 11 franchises in 13 years.
If Ollie’s players are as tough on Friday night as he was in cobbling together such a long NBA career, the Cyclones have quite a battle ahead. Ollie was waived six times. But teams kept picking him up. When he was an assistant general manager for the Minnesota Timberwolves, Hoiberg added Ollie to his team’s roster.
“We needed a mentor-type guy when I moved on after my surgery into the front office,” Hoiberg said, “and the first guy to call was Kevin, because I knew the impact he would have on our young players.”
Ollie and Hoiberg are 41, born two months apart. They spent the same four years in college, and now coach their alma maters. They were even on the same recruiting weekend at Arizona.
“Lute Olson had one scholarship,” Hoiberg said, “and I think he told both of us the first one who accepts gets it.”
They were teammates on the 2001-02 Chicago Bulls. They played for the Bulls in their all-time worst loss, 127-74 at Minnesota.
But Hoiberg also played in 18 playoff games for the Timberwolves in 2004. Over his career, he played for the likes of Larry Brown, Flip Saunders, Bird and McHale.
“You take bits and pieces from all those guys,” Hoiberg said, “and apply it to your own philosophy. Those are the best coaches in the world.
Former Cyclone star Jeff Hornacek is an NBA Coach of the Year candidate this season, his first as the Phoenix Suns’ head coach. Many think Hoiberg will eventually coach in that league, too.
“I’ve talked to a lot of people in the NBA,” former Suns general manager Steve Kerr said on TNT during its telecast of Iowa State’s NCAA third-round win over North Carolina. “The minute he says he’s interested, he’ll have some offers.”Hoiberg coaches in the NBA’s most-famous arena tonight. Iowa State people think that’s as close as he needs to get to that league for a long time.