Hoiberg living the dream at Iowa State
Indianapolis (Oct. 27, 2011) -- A lot of people say they're living the dream.
For Fred Hoiberg, it is a rare reality.
Entering his second season as head coach at Iowa State, Hoiberg is in the place where his basketball career not only took root but flowered beyond his wildest imagination. In the process of rebuilding the program, the former Pacers guard is hoping to plant the seeds for long-term success.
"To be back in my hometown, to be coaching in front of the people that have been supporting me my whole life -- there's so many people still supporting this program that were around when I was playing back in the '90s -- it's a dream come true for me," said Hoiberg. "I grew up about five blocks from Hilton Coliseum, I was a ballboy as a kid, I had a passion for Cyclone athletics, to be back here in this capacity has been great."
A second-round pick in 1995, Hoiberg spent four seasons with the Pacers that included two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals. He went on to play six more NBA seasons (for the Bulls and Timberwolves) before a life-threatening heart ailment that required extensive surgery ended his career in 2005.
He moved into the front office in Minnesota, rising to Vice President of Basketball Operations before taking the Iowa State job in April 2010. He had an immediate impact, guiding the Cyclones to a 16-16 record -- their first .500 finish since 2005 -- and has the team on the upswing.
"When I got the job I wanted to get as much talent in here as possible," Hoiberg said. "The first year, it happened to be the transfers. Those guys were very talented players and we did a lot of background on them. They went through a pretty extensive process before we determined if we were going to take these players, if they made sense. They met with me, they met with the athletic director, they met with people on the administrative side and we all felt very comfortable bringing these guys into our program.
"If you don't have talent in the Big 12 you're not going to be very successful so that was the initial thing for me when I got the job, to try to get as much talent in the program as we could. We'll definitely have an upgrade in that area this season."
Though Hoiberg had limited coaching experience, he played for a number of prolific coaches including Johnny Orr and Tim Floyd at Iowa State and in the NBA with the Bulls, Larry Brown and Larry Bird with the Pacers and Flip Saunders in Minnesota.
He has used bits and pieces of each in forming his own coaching philosophy.
"To be able to play for Larry Brown as my first (NBA) coach, I still talk to Larry and I try to pick his brain when I can," he said. "Some of the things he taught us as players I try to apply into my coaching style. And Larry Bird, as well. You try to take pieces from all of them that you played for.
"Those guys were very different in their approach to the game so you try to take the stuff that you liked and maybe not do the things that you didn’t like from all the coaches you played for and you apply that to your own system. I've been very fortunate in my career to play for some great coaches and two of the best I ever had were in Indiana."
Hoiberg led Ames High to the Iowa State title in 1991 and was named Mr. Basketball. He then went on to play four prolific years at Iowa State, earning All-America honors as a senior. He earned the nickname "The Mayor" in 1993 when he received write-in votes in the Ames mayoral race.
Though he enjoys the luxury of local legend status, that doesn’t lighten the load. He's learning the coaching ropes on the fly in one of the most demanding positions in the sport. There is much more to being a college coach than simply coaching.
"A lot goes into this," he said. "It's not just coaching. Academics are very important to me. The last two semesters our players have set all-time highs in their GPAs. We had over a 3.0 team Grade Point Average last semester with eight guys over a 3.0 and five over a 3.5 and that's important. I talk to those guys about that all the time, about getting on track to get their degrees so whatever direction life takes them they'll be prepared.
"You also have the recruiting and if you have an off day you're on the road or taking a late flight out and taking an early flight the following day to get back for practice. So much goes into this job as far as trying to get things on track and hopefully keeping them on track."
Though he has had no health issues since recovering from the heart surgery six years ago, that does not mean the issue is in the past. Hoiberg goes for exams every six months and said he will need another operation to have a valve replaced "in the next few years."
Still, considering the alternative, he considers himself lucky to have discovered the problem in time for treatment. An aneurysm caused his aorta to enlarge, which meant any blow to the chest could've caused a potentially fatal bursting of the body's largest blood vessel.
"That will always be an ongoing thing for me," he said. "I'm very fortunate to have found out about my heart condition. It was just a matter of time before my aorta would've ruptured and it's the largest blood vessel in your body so it's usually too late. It's something that we keep a very close eye on and the fact that I'm getting checked, I feel very fortunate to be where I am today."
And where he is, precisely, is where he always has wanted to be, doing what he always wanted to do -- and doing it well. The Cyclones aren't yet a title contender in the Big 12, but they definitely are climbing the ladder. Ames is abuzz with talk of the team's improvement, and the national needle is starting to move just a bit.
"This is where I want to be," he said. "It's a great opportunity to be back where I grew up. There's no pro sports franchise in the state of Iowa so you grow up an Iowa, Iowa State, Drake or (Northern Iowa) fan. I was a passionate Cyclone fan growing up and I still am."
Hoiberg has found the place where his dream lives: home.