By Chris Williams, CycloneFanatic.com Publisher
He’s been in Ames for over half a decade.
When Fred Hoiberg was named Iowa State’s head basketball coach last April, his first order of business was a no-brainer.
KeepT.J. Otzelbergeron the staff. It didn’t take Hoiberg long to name Otzelberger his associate head coach.
What will Otzelberger’s role on the staff be going forward? Find insight on that and more in this exclusive CycloneFanatic.com conversation with Iowa State’s ace recruiter.
CW: Since Greg McDermott hired you to his inaugural coaching staff at Iowa State five years ago, there has always been some sort of turnover in the offseason. You and Jeff Rutter have been the only constants. You’re 32, but do you feel like the elder statesman of Cyclone basketball?
Otzelberger: It has been good to be here. I have enjoyed building relationships. I really feel like we have had good kids and overall, I want to see us get back to the top of the Big 12 Conference. There is probably some pride and some ego about wanting to be here and seeing things get turned around. I feel like with Fred, there is a renewed interest and excitement in the program. It is going on six years now that I have been here. Every year has been different but I have never looked at it as being the elder statesman of the program. But yeah, I guess it is getting to that point.
CW: How would you describe your first year of working with Fred Hoiberg? Any surprises?
Otzelberger: It was great. I don’t think that there were many surprises. I think that Fred is a better coach. When he took over without the coaching experience, he proved in a short period of time that he is a really good coach. He has a great feel. He is extremely smart. He has played for a lot of really good coaches and picked a lot up over the years. We had to sort through a lot of personnel decisions with players during last year’s offseason to this year. Overall, we’re excited to move forward with the group that we have assembled for next year.
CW: The coaching staff looks very different heading into the summer. Is your role going to change at all with Bobby Lutz out of the picture?
Otzelberger: I think that my role will change to some degree. Up until this point, I have been heavily involved in the recruiting aspect over my first five years here. With Coach Lutz leaving, it will put me in a position where I have more responsibility on a daily basis from on the floor practice coaching, player development as well as scouting report preparation, game planning and bench coaching during games. Not that those things haven’t been things I’ve done in the past, but when you have somebody like Coach Lutz around every day, we would be foolish to not draw upon the knowledge that he had. Not that my role will be essentially the same that his was last year, but I think there will definitely be some transition where some of the aspects or responsibilities that he had last year will now fall in my lap.
CW: Are you looking forward to that?
Otzelberger: Definitely. I will take on whatever responsibility or role is best for the staff in terms of chemistry and helping us with the most games. I am excited about transitioning into that new role and the responsibilities that come along with it.
CW: Looking at the staff now, you have Matt (Abdelmassih) in the northeast, Cornell (Mann) who is really strong in Michigan, you’re heavy in Wisconsin and some of the other spots you’ve recruited in the past and Fred can pretty much go anywhere. Do you feel like you’ve got the map covered from a recruiting standpoint?
Otzelberger: I think so. I think that Fred’s pedigree, reputation and having played in the NBA and how strongly he feels about Iowa State in general, we have assembled a staff that has different recruiting strengths in different areas. You mentioned Matt in the northeast. He also has ties to Minneapolis as he’s been up there. Cornell is great in Michigan and Ohio. As for myself, I think that having lived in California and Florida, I try to have as many relationships as I can there. Overall, we have as strong as staff from a recruiting standpoint, as we’ve had since I have been here.
CW: Speaking of recruiting, I remember attending a practice at the old State Gym during your first year at Iowa State. That’s what you had to recruit with. Now you have the Sukup Practice Facility. How much easier has that made recruiting?
Otzelberger: Much easier. The one thing that people don’t always equate to recruiting is that when we do bring guys here, they see players here working out more, playing video games, shooting pool, just being around the facility. The overall sense of community makes relationships with players a lot stronger. For us having offices in the same building as well, allows us to see the guys every day and visit with them and really strengthen those relationships. It helps to have this building with the wow factor, but even more so on a daily basis it helps because our guys are here building team chemistry and we can be around them all of the time.
CW: Let’s talk transfers now. Were there any surprises that we should know about, regarding how they worked last season?
Otzelberger: That is a challenging dynamic, when you are 19, 20, and 21 years old. You’ve had playing in basketball games be a major part of your life every year. Then, you can’t do it. There was adversity and challenges that those guys had to face by virtue of having to sit out. I don’t think we saw any surprises. Those guys were pretty much all business. They did a great job of playing on the scout team and helping prepare the ones who were eligible every day. I think what you found is as soon as the season ended and we started looking forward at next year, those guys stepped up to even more of a leadership type role. They have really taken things to that next level because now they know next season is right around the corner and that they will be playing. They are a lot more focused.
CW: Will Clyburn and Korie Lucious are both going to sit out next year. Does the fact that they’ll do it together help that dynamic a little bit?
Otzelberger: From a chemistry standpoint it will. We are going to lose Scott Christopherosn and Chris Allen after next year. Those are two guards who will score a lot of points for us. Having Will and Korie sit out and build that chemistry every day will be huge. Korie is a proven point guard who has won at the highest level. He’s played in Final Fours and for national championships. Clyburn is a proven scorer. He averaged over 17 points at Utah in a very tough Mountain West Conference. Even more so, you have a great point guard with a great scorer so that chemistry of Korie being able to find Will and get him the ball with opportunities to score. Obviously Korie has that ability to score himself. That will only build in the offseason.
CW: What’s the latest on Craig Brackins? He bounced back and forth to and from the D-League all year. How is he doing?
Otzelberger: He has to approach last year like a redshirt year. With the adjustment to the NBA, there are so many variables and timing that you can’t control. He does need to get a lot stronger to be able to play at the four position in the NBA. He has done a great job of working on his body. He’s gained like 12 pounds. He is over 240, almost at 245 right now. There are highs and lows to it. Just like it was hard for our guys sitting out, it was hard for him to not play in games. When you go from being a go-to guy for two years where you get touches on almost every possession, to being in street clothes half of the games. I think that it is good for him early in his career, to experience some of that adversity. Obviously for him being on a playoff team with all of the experienced guys, it didn’t give him a lot of opportunities. Had he been on dominant team or a poor team, rookies usually get a few more opportunities late in the season. His future looks bright. He has a good perspective. He has gotten a taste of what it is about. Now it is up to him to work out during the offseason and create opportunities for himself.
CW: Any shot that Diante (Garrett) gets drafted based off what you are hearing at this point?
Otzelberger: I think there is definitely a chance. The one thing about the draft in the NBA is that no matter what these draft boards look like and what people say, it really only takes one team to like or fall in love with your game and you get picked. Diante has a unique skill set. Going to Portsmouth Tournament and measuring over 6-foot-5 with his ability with the ball intrigued a lot of people. He has things that he needs to work on but for a team that plays up-tempo and is looking for a young point guard who has a lot of character, Diante has proven himself. You saw the jump that he made from his junior to senior seasons. If he can continue to make those jumps, he definitely has a chance.