A legacy realized: Hoiberg revitalizes program, gives ISU first championship in 14 years


Fred Hoiberg’s cutting of the net after Iowa State won the 2014 Big 12 Championship against Baylor signaled an ISU team on the rise in the Big 12 conference.  

Alex Halsted

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — With a contract stuffed inside his briefcase, Jamie Pollard drove north to Minnesota four years ago to meet with Fred Hoiberg.

The two sat across from each other at Hoiberg’s dining room table; the former ISU star’s children were off with his wife, Carol, getting ice cream. Hours had passed when Pollard paused to pull out the papers and laid them on the table.

“When he put that piece of paper on the table,” Hoiberg said, “I knew it was real.”

After four consecutive losing seasons and five-straight years without an NCAA tournament berth, Hoiberg signed the dotted line to return to his alma mater and the place he had become a star.

Hoiberg — an Ames native, four-year ISU starter and 10-year NBA veteran — had a lot to live up to.

“We talked a little bit about his legacy and the risk of putting his legacy at risk,” said Pollard, ISU athletics director. “He didn’t expect to fail, so he wasn’t worried about that.”

On March 15, when the confetti had stopped falling after Iowa State’s 74-65 Big 12 championship victory against Baylor and after each player had taken his turn, Hoiberg stepped up to the ladder placed under the hoop at the Sprint Center. He helped his two twins, Sam and Charlie, climb and then did so himself.

As Hoiberg stood atop the ladder, cutting the final strand of net away from the rim, he did so with Iowa State having won its first Big 12 title since 2000 and with its third-straight NCAA tournament berth in hand.

A lot has changed at Iowa State in four years.

“I wanted to get better. I was confident that we could get some players in there that could help us get it. I knew that we could do that,” Hoiberg said. “Did I envision this in four years? I don’t know, I didn’t really think of it that way.”

Hoiberg first wanted to coach at Iowa State when the job opened in 2006. Instead, the Cyclones hired Greg McDermott.

“At that point in time, I just felt like every great basketball player thinks they can coach, and most can’t,” Pollard said. “That’s what I thought at that time. I think Fred took that to heart.”

Hoiberg became more active with his alma mater, and when McDermott left in 2010 for Creighton, Pollard didn’t waver for a second. He drove straight to Minnesota with the contract printed.

Hoiberg’s first order of business was to lock up a player named Melvin Ejim, who could either keep his previous commitment to Iowa State or look elsewhere. Hoiberg made a visit to Ejim’s prep school in New Hampshire.

“Man, he wanted to win a Big 12 championship,” Ejim said of Hoiberg’s message. “We did that today. We were close. We just needed a little bit of time and we were going to be really good.

“It’s all his vision and we were able to do it.”

Hoiberg’s vision has culminated into national recognition and eight top-25 victories this season en route to making history by winning the Big 12 Championship.

The vision is what had Hoiberg with his two sons — four years after they rushed out of the house to eat ice cream during his interview — at the bottom of that ladder.

“It was awesome,” Charlie said. “I just can’t believe that we actually won it.”

“It was really cool,” Sam added.

More than an hour after Iowa State won the Big 12 title, while a worker swept away the final signs that anything had taken place, Hoiberg finished one final question with a small group of reporters on the court. He pointed to his twin sons, who stood patiently off to the side.

“Ready, boys?” Hoiberg asked them.

Off the court the three walked, Hoiberg’s legacy well intact.