NEW YORK CITY — We’ve all read this story a hundred times. Fred Hoiberg and UConn head coach Kevin Ollie are former teammates. They like each other. Arizona offered them the same scholarship and neither one of them took it.
And trust me – you’re going to read this story again over the next 24 hours – by dozens of new outlets.
To the surprise of nobody, this has been hot topic all day long at Madison Square Garden on Thursday. I did however hear a fresh take on this friendship during Iowa State and UConn’s perspective media sessions in preparation for Friday’s Sweet 16 matchup between the programs.
“Neither of us were ever go-to guys,” Hoiberg said of the friendship. “Starting off our careers at least we were the 11, 12 or 13th man. In order to survive in a league, one you have to be a great teammate and two, you have to have a good work ethic to keep yourself going.”
They were teammates. They became friends. Hoiberg’s overwhelming respect for Ollie is why the Timberwolves (with Hoiberg in the front office) signed Ollie to a one year contract during the twilight of his career.
“He took a chance on a 37-year old point guard,” Ollie said. “I thank him for that.”
It has been clearly apparent over the last four years in Ames that Hoiberg knows how to shape and manage a locker room. He had that sense in the NBA too – hence the Ollie signing back in 2008.
“That’s why when I was with the Timberwolves, he was the first guy I called as a mentor type guy,” Hoiberg said. “He was unbelievable with that role. He is a special person, one of the all-time good guys.”
The two had similar careers as players and now as coaches; their teams have similar personalities.
“We try to manipulate the defense,” Ollie said. “We try to go to different matchups. I look at him, and when he took the Iowa State job and just filled in those shoes and just took it to another level. He’s just a great person and he’s doing a great job wit his student-athletes. I’m a big fan of Fred’s.