Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — Fred Hoiberg’s first memory of meeting Kevin Ollie involved tasty homemade pancakes.
The two high school players were visiting Arizona on a recruiting trip and coach Lute Olson’s late wife Bobbi made them flapjacks.
“The most amazing pancakes I’ve ever had, apple cinnamon pancakes,” Hoiberg recalled Thursday in a hallway at Madison Square Garden.
During that recruiting trip, Olson told the players that he only had one scholarship left and whoever committed first would get it.
“Both of us didn’t decide to go to Arizona, and he went to Iowa State and I went to Connecticut and I think it worked out for both of us,” Ollie recalled.
Now, all these years later, the two men are head coaches at their respective alma maters and will face off Friday night in a Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden.
“Any time you get to share this experience with somebody you’re very close with, I think it makes it special,” Hoiberg said. “Kevin is as good a person as there is in this business. I think everybody that knows him, you’re not going to find one person say anything bad about him.”
Ollie and Hoiberg continued to cross paths across their careers after the Arizona trip.
They were teammates on a horrendous Chicago Bulls team in 2001-2 that went 21-61,
“I had an opportunity to play with him at the Chicago Bulls and just one of the greatest teammates I ever been around,” Ollie said. “Personable , would do anything for his teammates.”
After Hoiberg retired from playing with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2005, he became that team’s assistant general manager. And three years later, Hoiberg recommended bringing Ollie to the Wolves.
“He owes me, because I resurrected his career,” Hoiberg joked.
He added in the hallway: “He was 37 years old and I don’t know if he would’ve gotten a job. But he was unbelievable, he was so valuable for a mentor-type role.”
Now that both men are head coaches, they are imparting an uptempo NBA style of play and real-life NBA experiences to their players.
“I just think that just playing for Coach [Hoiberg] and him just letting us play free, giving us the confidence to go out there and play, play for each other,” Iowa State guard DeAndre Kane said. “I love playing the game, and I think we all bought into his system early.”
UConn star Shabazz Napier, who will likely be guarded by Kane, added a similar sentiment.
“I think that coach, he’s been in the league for a long time, a lot of years,” Napier said. “And his ideas on how to run offense comes from that. A lot of things come from Coach [Jim] Calhoun, too. You just intertwine those two things, and he’s just putting us in a great positions to show what we have. And it’s our job to go out there and execute it, and hopefully we get the job done.”
No word on whether Ollie and Hoiberg will meet up again this weekend for pancakes.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.