NEW YORK – Kevin Ollie and Fred Hoiberg met as high school basketball stars more than two decades ago when they went on the same recruiting trip to Arizona.
Ollie chose UConn instead. Hoiberg picked Iowa State.
“I think it worked out for both of us,” Ollie said with a smile.
Each now coaches his alma mater, and they’ll face one another Friday in the Sweet 16.
In between that shared visit to Tucson and this week’s NCAA tournament East Regional at Madison Square Garden, Ollie and Hoiberg were teammates for part of a season with the Chicago Bulls in 2001-02. Six years later, when Hoiberg was an assistant general manager for the Timberwolves, he lobbied to sign Ollie because he knew the veteran could provide needed leadership.
Those sorts of intangibles are why both lasted in the NBA so long, and why it’s little surprise the friends landed in coaching.
“Kevin and I weren’t very good players, but to stick around — me for 10, him for 13 years — you have to have some of those qualities: a work ethic, good teammate,” Hoiberg said Thursday.
Those lengthy pro careers show in the 41-year-old coaches’ philosophies in college, the way they try to run their offenses to create mismatches for their best players. The style has certainly worked in their brief careers on the bench.
Ollie is in his second season as head coach, promoted after mentor Jim Calhoun retired. The Huskies, who were ineligible for the postseason last year, upset second-seeded Villanova on Saturday.
Hoiberg, in his fourth season, has led the Cyclones to three straight NCAA bids for just the second time in school history. His tournament debut as coach came against none other than UConn, when Ollie was an assistant. The Cyclones won that day in 2012, the programs’ only previous meeting.