Q&A with Iowa State basketball coach Fred Hoiberg

Iowa State is the Big 12’s only remaining undefeated team, and the Cyclones have risen from unranked to No. 17 in the AP Poll and No. 13 in the coaches’ poll after logging wins over Michigan, BYU and Iowa. They’ve crashed the party of potential Big 12 title contenders, and their coach has already earned plenty of credit for the start during a season with tons of talent turnover.

Fred Hoiberg, perhaps better known as The Mayor, sat down to talk about a variety of subjects with FOX Sports Southwest this week.

People are calling you guys a “surprise team.” Do you agree with that assessment?

Well, I think I would agree with that just because of the fact we had so many unknowns going into the season. We lost so much production from a year ago, especially in our backcourt. If you don’t have good guards, it’s hard to win at any level. I just think that there’s so many questions about how we were going to replace Korie Lucious, Chris Babb, Will Clyburn, Tyrus McGee. I don’t think teams really knew what to expect, or people knew what to expect from us. We were very fortunate to get DeAndre Kane, who has as much experience as he has. Naz Long has really stepped up his game this year and our other two freshmen, Matt Thomas and Monte Morris, have had a big impact and are probably playing ahead of their years. So when you combine all that and Dustin Hogue has kind of played the small forward spot for us and been an absolute warrior. We like our team. We like where we are right now.

Has anything about this team surprised you?

You know what, the thing that I’ve loved about this team is how well we’ve handled adversity. We’ve had double-digit deficits in four games and we’ve found a way to come back and win. That’s the thing I’ve been most proud of with this team, is how they’ve continued to battle, continued to fight and find a way to get wins at the end of the game.

You and Paul Rhoads are both home-grown guys who know the area well and have ties to Iowa State. What kinds of advantages do you guys have that other coaches who don’t know the school as well have?

I think the big thing is we know the fan base here. We know the area and how to sell recruits all there is to offer at Iowa State because we grew up in this area. I grew up in Ames and Paul grew up in Ankeny, which is 20 miles down the road. We both have a passion for this university, and when you have that, it’s easy to sell all the things that Iowa State has to offer, which is a lot. We have as loyal a fan base as there is in the country across the board in all sports and when teams come experience Jack Trice Stadium or Hilton Coliseum, they see that and experience that.

I read about how you convinced (Iowa State AD) Jamie Pollard to hire you. His first impression of you back in ’06 was just another former player who thought he could coach. What’d you say the second time around to convince him that you could coach.

That’s a great question. I guess one thing that I’ve always done, I had open heart surgery back in 2005 and I was very fortunate to move right into a front office position with the Minnesota Timberwolves where I learned a lot, especially about coaching. I was able to spend a lot of time 1-on-1 with Kevin McHale, who I think is as bright a basketball mind as anybody in the game. I was able to talk to people that I was close to who were great coaches. Flip Saunders was one of those guys. I use a lot of his offensive sets. Just going around and watching practices and taking notes on what I liked and what I didn’t like I think all prepared me for the opportunity that came up when Jamie called me four years ago. It’s been great. I love being back home. My parents are in town. My in-laws are in town and it’s been a very smooth transition.

I know your dad’s a sociology professor at Iowa State. What kinds of things did you learn from him that you’ve used in coaching or in other professional exploits?

Well, my dad’s the smartest guy I know. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen just the way he is with people. I wouldn’t say his basketball IQ is real high; he never played the game. But just the way he can read people and the way he deals with people is something that I’ve tried to incorporate. You have to have those skills if you’re going to be successful, those communication and leadership skills. And my dad’s the best of anybody I’ve ever known.

Royce White’s gotten a lot of attention, especially here in Texas, since he left your program. What do you make of why his pro career hasn’t really gotten started yet?
 
Well, I think it will. I think it’s going to take, obviously, another team stepping up and giving him another opportunity. And I think that’ll come. I talk to Royce a lot. He’s really working out hard right now, getting himself prepared. I thought it might work in Philly, but for whatever reason, it didn’t and they moved on. But I know he’s really motivated right now to just get out there and get back to doing what he wants to do.

How often do you guys get to talk?

Oh, I talk to Royce every couple weeks, I’d say.

Emotionally for you, what’s it like for you to see his mental struggles be part of what holds him back at the next level, despite the talent we’ve obviously seen?

Well, I really believe in the kid. I think whoever does end up taking him is going to end up getting a heck of a basketball player. Once you build the relationship and you build a trust level with Royce, I don’t think you have the problems that maybe people saw with his first situation. I never had any issue with him at all. He traveled to all the trips with us and obviously his game speaks for itself. It’s just a matter of getting with the right fit. I think the world of the guys in Houston. It just wasn’t the right fit there. I hope for the best for him and I know those guys do as well. Again, it’s just going to take somebody taking a chance and hopefully a good one.

Why did it work so well for you guys in Ames?

Well, I think the big thing was we had such a level of trust. For Royce, he was a guy I just spent a lot of time talking to. It wasn’t always just about basketball. Sometimes it was about life. We build such a trust level with each other, it just worked.

Who’s the best college player you ever played against?

Anthony Peeler was pretty good at Missouri. He was a senior and I was a freshman and he was impossible to guard for me.

Put on your NBA front office hat briefly. You can’t take your own players, but if you have the first pick in the draft, who do you take?

You know, I haven’t studied it enough to be honest with you, to know who to take. There’s so much more than just what you read in the papers. Obviously, you’re worried about your plan and I haven’t had a chance to see those guys play enough.

When you do assess players, what’s something that front offices look at in college players that fans or media don’t necessarily think about?

I think the No. 1 thing you look at is athleticism. Can they compete athletically? That’s where you look and that’s a huge key if you’re a superior athlete in that league. Then you look at their skill set and see if it fits into your organization and what you’re trying to do and then you look at their character and see if they fit with the group you’re putting together.