Jack Hoiberg enjoys ride at MSU, as dad takes Nebraska reins
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Success in sports for Michigan State’s Jack Hoiberg has actually come more quickly on the golf course than the basketball court, despite the depth of his family roots in the hoops and hardwoods of the Midwest.
Hoiberg had a scholarship waiting for him at South Dakota, after all, a scratch golfer whose high school team in Illinois won two state championships. That dream of playing for a premier college basketball program, though, was difficult to shake.
Though he might not get in a game this weekend as a freshman walk-on who has logged a total 18 minutes all season, simply reaching the Final Four with the Spartans in Minneapolis has more than validated his decision.
“It’s just been the coolest experience,” Hoiberg said. “I’m just trying to take it in and enjoy all of it.”
The site has made this trip even more special. The Twin Cities area is where he lived from ages 4 to 11, while his father, Fred Hoiberg, finished his NBA career with the Minnesota Timberwolves and moved to the front office after a heart condition forced him off the court. Just a couple of hours north in cabin country, the family still keeps a summer vacation spot on a lake.
“This is definitely a place I call home,” said Jack Hoiberg, who hoped to connect with old elementary school friends during some evening downtime.
When Michigan State plays Texas Tech in the national semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday, Fred Hoiberg, the newly minted coach at Nebraska , will be there. Next season, father and son will be Big Ten foes. For this weekend, Fred Hoiberg will just be a Spartans dad. He’s managed to make it to each of Michigan State’s games in the NCAA Tournament, despite a hectic month including a spring break trip with his wife and two youngest sons to the Dominican Republic and signing his contract with the Huskers.
“To be on the floor and see Jack cut down that net to get to the Final Four, that’s something our family will never forget,” said Fred Hoiberg, whose grandfather, Jerry Bush, was once the coach at Nebraska.
Fred Hoiberg was a star at Iowa State before a 10-year playing career in the NBA. He was lured into coaching by his alma mater in 2010 and took the Cyclones to the NCAA Tournament four times in five seasons with a 115-56 record. Then he went pro again, taking over the Chicago Bulls until being fired in December, about one-third of the way through his fourth season.
Shortly before he was hired by Nebraska, Fred Hoiberg was visiting his son at Michigan State and stopped to talk strategy in coach Tom Izzo’s office.
“I love Fred. Not as much as I love Jack,” Izzo said this week, praising Jack Hoiberg’s competitiveness and improvement since his redshirt season in 2017-18.
Following a strong senior year, Jack Hoiberg told his parents he preferred to keep his basketball career active and save golf for summer recreation. At 5-foot-11, five inches shorter than Fred Hoiberg, he didn’t have any scholarship offers from power conference programs, but a visit to Michigan State was arranged and Izzo was glad to add him as a walk-on.
“He treated Jack like he was a five-star recruit,” Fred Hoiberg said in a phone interview.
Though it helped Jack Hoiberg catch Izzo’s attention, the famous last name hasn’t always been in his favor. There’s pressure and scrutiny with that, too.
“I feel like it bothered me a little bit at times, but I definitely got used to it,” Jack Hoiberg said. “That made me a better person, too.”
So did having to move from a smaller school in central Iowa to the western Chicago suburbs, halfway through his high school career while his dad stepped onto the bigger stage in the NBA.
“If you’re going through a tough stretch, you’re going to get heckled and they’re going to chant things at you, and it really honestly I think helped Jack,” Fred Hoiberg said. “It made him a tougher person and a tougher player, when you have things that are being said to him. You have to try to channel that and get through it.”
When Michigan State plays Nebraska next season, Fred Hoiberg joked, he’d try to get the game plan from his son by taking him out for dinner the night before. Perhaps one day down the road, Jack Hoiberg will join his dad’s staff. Sure, he’s thought about becoming a coach, probably with “a mixture” of Izzo’s intensity and his father’s laid-back personality, he said.
“I’m happy to see him back on the sideline,” Jack Hoiberg said. “Coaching is something that I think he’s very good at. I think he’s going to turn that program around and have a lot of success there.”