Hoiberg and Ollie share a friendship and admiration

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg calls a play during a NCAA tournament game against North Carolina on Sunday at San Antonio. Iowa State plays UConn Friday in the Sweet Sixteen.
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg calls a play during a NCAA tournament game against North Carolina on Sunday at San Antonio. Iowa State plays UConn Friday in the Sweet Sixteen. David J. Phillip/AP photo

They once shared the same bench as NBA teammates.

Now they'll be coaching opposing teams on Friday night.

Neither Kevin Ollie nor Fred Hoiberg is surprised the other is enjoying success as a head coach in the college basketball ranks.

Ollie's UConn Huskies and Hoiberg's Iowa State Cyclones will play in the NCAA East Regional semifinals at Madison Square Garden in New York. Game time is 7:27 p.m. Friday.

Hoiberg has closely followed Ollie's coaching career since the former Husky guard replaced Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun in 2012.

This is Ollie's first trip to the NCAA tournament while Hoiberg is making his third straight appearance.

"It's fun to watch and follow people that you're close with," Hoiberg said. "I couldn't be happier with what Kevin has accomplished in his early coaching career. … People who know Kevin Ollie have a tremendous amount of respect for him."

They first crossed paths during the high school recruiting process. Ollie, who attended Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, and Hoiberg, a promising recruit out of Ames (Iowa) High School, visited Arizona the same weekend. Arizona coach Lute Olson told them that he'd take the first one to commit.

Ollie went to UConn and Hoiberg chose his hometown team in Iowa State.

Years later, they ended up NBA teammates with the Chicago Bulls during the 2001-02 season. Ollie fondly talked about Hoiberg before UConn lost to Iowa State in an NCAA tournament opener in 2012.

"He was a great teammate and a consummate professional…," Ollie said. "I learned a lot from Fred. … He taught me how to be a professional. I looked up to him as a role model."

Both Ollie and Hoiberg bounced around the NBA, keeping their careers alive by relying on a combination of heart, hard work and basketball smarts.

When Hoiberg worked as the Minnesota Timberwolves assistant general manager, he highly-recommended signing Ollie because of his leadership qualities. Ollie played there in 2008-09.

"He's one of the best teammates I ever had," Hoiberg said. "There was no doubt in my mind that he would be a successful head coach when he got the opportunity just because of how smart a person he is not only off the court but on the court when he was playing point guard.

"… Neither of us were guys that you'd go to or great players, but I think both of us thought the game. Being around Kevin and the type of person he is, you're not going to find anybody better."

Friday, they'll meet for the first time as opposing head coaches. Ollie was an assistant on Calhoun's staff in the previous postseason meeting.

Of the four coaches in the East Regional semifinals, Ollie has the least amount of experience.

In just two seasons, Ollie already has built an impressive resume, leading the Huskies to 20 wins last season despite dealing with a postseason ban and going 28-8 this season and earning an NCAA berth.

"You just see the confidence that his teams play with," Hoiberg said. "That's been one of the most impressive things I've seen. Even last year, when that team knew it wasn't going to play in the postseason, just to see what he was starting with that group. That's hard to do."

"I'm sure people realize it but they don't fully understand how difficult it is to come in and replace a legend like Jim Calhoun. I guess the good thing is Kevin played for him and worked under him for a few years.

"…. When I saw him rewarded with that long term contract, it was very well deserved. I couldn't have been happier for him. Then to see the success that he's had this season getting that team back into the NCAA tournament, it's been fun to watch."

News and notes

UConn senior Shabazz Napier was named to the NABC Coaches' All-America First Team. … Today's practices at Madison Square Garden are open to the public. UConn works out from noon to 12:50, followed by Michigan State (1-1:50 p.m.), Iowa State (2:10-3 p.m.) and Virginia (3:10-4 p.m.). Doors open at 11 a.m.

g.keefe@theday.com

UConn coach Kevin Ollie congratulates Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) after Louisville beat UConn 71-61 in the American Athletic Conference tournament final on March 15 at Memphis, Tenn.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie congratulates Louisville guard Russ Smith (2) after Louisville beat UConn 71-61 in the American Athletic Conference tournament final on March 15 at Memphis, Tenn. Mark Humphrey/AP photo
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