Fred Hoiberg, Kevin Ollie
Fred Hoiberg (left) and Kevin Ollie (right) and will go head-to-head as coaches in Division I NCAA tournament games
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Hoiberg, Ollie Find Their Way Home

by Mark Montieth | askmontieth@gmail.com

March 24, 2014

Just 16 college basketball coaches are still preparing for Division I NCAA tournament games, and two of them are former Pacers.

Having been around the team for the better part of nearly 20 years, I'm not surprised which ones.

Iowa State's Fred Hoiberg and Connecticut's Kevin Ollie face off against one another Friday in New York. Or, rather, their teams do. If they were to go one-on-one, it would be difficult to call. They were born just a couple of months apart in 1972, so it would come down to which one has kept himself in the best shape.

PHOTO GALLERY: Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie

Hoiberg's team, a No. 3 seed, will be favored over Ollie's team, a No. 7 seed, but then Ollie made a career of beating the odds and this is the NCAA tournament, where favorites stumble like divas in high heels. He lasted 13 seasons in the NBA as an undrafted guard who made 14 stops with 11 different teams, wearing seven different numbers. That tells you he wasn't quite athletic enough to stick with one team for long, but was in constant demand as a good influence by another one. Teams always felt they could find a more talented or athletic player, but he was a perfect fit for a team in need of more leadership. Kevin Ollie

Ollie finished his career in Oklahoma City, where Kevin Durant became a life-long admirer.

“Kevin Ollie, he was a game changer for us,” Durant once said. “I think he changed the whole culture in Oklahoma City. Just his mindset, professionalism, every single day. And we all watched that, and we all wanted to be like that. It rubbed off on Russell Westbrook, myself, Jeff Green, James Harden. And then everybody who comes through now, it’s the standard that you’ve got to live up to as a Thunder player. And it all started with Kevin Ollie.”

Ollie's career with the Pacers lasted just 29 games in the 2001-02 season. He was a throw-in to the deal that sent Jalen Rose, Travis Best, Norm Richardson and a second-round draft pick to Chicago for Brad Miller, Ron Artest and Ron Mercer. Short-term, it was a major victory for the Pacers, as Miller and Artest became All-Stars. Mercer and Ollie had their moments as well.

Ollie's most memorable moment came in the playoffs, in that first-round series with New Jersey, when the eighth-seeded Pacers nearly eliminated the Nets, who reached the NBA Finals that season. Ollie averaged 5.8 points over five games. More tellingly, he had 23 assists and just five turnovers. What coach wouldn't take a 4.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio from his point guard in the postseason?

That series is best-remembered for Reggie Miller's storybook shots, the 40-footer that forced the first overtime and the dunk that forced the second overtime in the final game of the five-game series. Less remembered is that it was Ollie who had the presence of mind to dribble through traffic and find Miller with a crosscourt pass for the 40-foot stunner.

A free agent, Ollie was gone after that season. To Milwuakee, this time, followed by stopovers in Seattle, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Minnesota and Oklahoma City. Which was an appropriate way to wind up a career that had already taken him to Dallas, Orlando, Sacramento, Orlando, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Chicago. Fred Hoiberg

Hoiberg, by comparison, had a stable NBA career. A second-round draft pick of the Pacers in 1995, he lasted four seasons with the team, an eternity for such a late pick. He hit 41 percent of his three-pointers his second season, Larry Brown's last as coach, and seemed to get another boost when Larry Bird took over. He lost confidence as time passed, though, perhaps because he was putting too much pressure on himself. He barely played his final season, the 1999 lockout season, and signed with Chicago the following summer.

Meanwhile, he had earned everyone's respect, in and out of the locker room. Miller thought enough of him to fly to Ames and attend Hoiberg's summer camp following Hoiberg's rookie season. He also thought enough of Hoiberg's opinion to accept a tip on his shooting form during a timeout in a game when he wasn't shooting well. And Hoiberg was savvy enough to ask Miller if he wanted that opinion before offering it.

Hoiberg's departure was the best thing for all concerned, because he never was going to get much of an opportunity backing up Reggie Miller. He played four seasons in Chicago – including half of one with Ollie – and then two in Minnesota before a heart condition forced his retirement at age 32. If he had been able to continue any longer, he might have become a journeyman, too. Welcome anywhere, at least for awhile. He's one of the best all-around athletes ever to play for the Pacers, but at 6-4 was a few inches short of being able to excel at shooting guard.

They're so much alike, Ollie and Hoiberg. Both had perfect attitudes and work ethics as backup guards, neither was good enough to start, but both would have been an asset to any team for which they played. And now they're both coaching at their alma mater. They could succeed anywhere as coaches, but they're both in the perfect place.

At long last, they'll have all the stability they want.

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