Fred & Jack Hoiberg Great For Michigan State, Nebraska & Everyone Else!
Hondo S. Carpenter
Every father-son relationship is one that is uniquely different. The relationship between Michigan State’s Jack Hoiberg and his father, Nebraska head coach Fred, is one that is unique in its own way. It has remained strong throughout Jack’s childhood and upbringing and Fred’s playing and coaching career in basketball.
Spartan Nation sat down with both for this article.
Fred Hoiberg spent 10 years playing in the NBA, playing in three different cities. He then began his coaching career, which led him to Iowa State. Following a three-year stint with the Chicago Bulls, now he’s in his first year as the head coach at Nebraska.
But throughout an understandably busy playing and coaching career, balance was always a priority for Hoiberg with his family. It was a priority to him, making time for his children, Paige, Sam, Charlie and Jack, something that never went unnoticed for Jack, who considers his father to be his hero.
“Obviously, first and foremost, he’s my dad,” he said. “Growing up, watching him in the NBA was cool and all, but I saw him more as a father. I saw him more at home just kind of teaching me my values and morals that I have today and everything in terms of basketball has just been a bonus.”
For Fred Hoiberg, he’s had the opportunity to reflect on his life and career, and said he’s most proud of the fact he can look back on his life and know that he’s made a meaningful impact on his kids’ lives and knowing that Jack considers him to be his hero is obviously a great feeling.
“When I look back on my life, obviously, this profession has been great to me, I’ve lived out a dream by playing 10 years in the NBA,” he said. “I’ve had very serious health issues with my heart and it, which certainly put my life in perspective and it made a lot of those little things that maybe seemed important be not so important. But when I look back on my life, the impact you have on your kids’ lives, I’m very fortunate. I was raised in a great way, my dad is my hero, so I can say the same thing because of the sacrifices he made for me helped me get to where I got. So when I heard that Jack said that about me, it makes me feel great.”
After a successful five-year run at Iowa State where he was considered a rising star in the coaching ranks, Fred Hoiberg was hired as head coach of the Bulls in 2015 only to be fired 24 games into the 2019 season.
The firing, while never ideal, turned out to give Hoiberg the opportunity to spend more time with his family. He said that he cherished the time he spent with his children and the time he spent with Jack during Michigan State’s run to the Final Four last spring.
“I think you have to have a balance in your life,” he said. “I couldn’t be more proud of Jack for how he’s grown in every aspect of his life and there’s nobody better – in my eyes – to guide him than coach Izzo. He’s done such a phenomenal job and I talk to Izzo a lot about him. Sometimes when you’re let go like I was – I was let go in December – that gave me the opportunity to have quality time with my kids that I haven’t had in a long time. So to be able to spend time in East Lansing and go watch him practice and go out to dinner with him, that’s time that I’ll always look back on that was very special in my life – to be able to watch my twins play their games and be able to travel and see my daughter in her last year of college.”
“For me, when I went and saw Jack, I would have much rather gone on a practice day where I could see him have an active role and run the scout team as the point guard than to go watch him in a game. It was such a cool experience last year to follow that run that Michigan State had and I saw maybe as high quality of a game that I’ve ever seen in college basketball in that game in Washington D.C. against Duke and to share that moment with him to win that game to go to the Final Four, was certainly something my family will never forget.”
When Hoiberg was hired as head coach of Nebraska in March of last season, the opportunity for Jack to join his father in Lincoln arose. But Jack ultimately decided to remain at Michigan State.
That chance to play for his father was one that was surely tempting, but Jack Hoiberg said that the discussion with his father on the matter was a simple one and that his family left the decision up to him. Jack cited that Michigan State’s family atmosphere and the strides he made in his first two years as reasons to stay in East Lansing.
“He kind of just left it up to me,” he said. “He’s like, ‘You can come if you want, but I know you love it there.’ And I do love it here, I love the family atmosphere, everything Michigan State is about and I feel like I’ve grown every year here and I didn’t want to leave that and I want to see where my opportunity goes from here.”
Jack Hoiberg first joined the Michigan State basketball team as a walk-on before the 2017-18 season and appeared in 14 games as a redshirt freshman a year ago and has appeared in six games so far this season.
While Jack hasn’t had much of a chance to see regular game action with the Spartans, he’s still developed into one of Michigan State’s leaders this season, something that his father says is because of his character and work ethic, along with his desire to be a coach one day.
“That’s the thing I love about the Michigan State culture is it doesn’t matter who you are, those guys hold each other accountable,” he said. “When I see Jack talking to Cassius when he’s walking up the floor, the National Player of the Year, that’s really cool. He wants to be a coach and I think he’s going to be a great one and a lot of that is because of the way he’s handled himself as a guy that sat at the end of the bench last year but could still have a huge impact on the team.”
Cassius Winston said of Jack, “He is not just a leader on this team he is a great leader. He knows the game, he understands how the game works and we trust him. When he speaks I think every guy and coach listens to him.”
Those are big words from a man many consider the best player in the Big Ten, if not the nation.
Tom Izzo is fond of saying that when a player is not playing well or playing at all, it is nearly impossible for him to lead. Something Jack Hoiberg has proven false.
The Spartan Hall of Fame head coach asked Izzo about that with Hoiberg. “Not often, but he has respect from all of the guys. I don't know if it's his -- it's kind of, you look at Jack, and you say this kid has really gotten better each year too. Had a chance to go with his dad and wanted to stay here. I'm hoping it's because of me. I'm thinking it could be his girlfriend. I don't know which one. Either way, I'm excited to have him back because he is somebody that everybody on this team likes.”
Izzo continued, “He was very close with Jaren Jackson. He just has a way about him, and I think he understands what it's like to be in the limelight. I think it will be good for Steven, as crazy as it sounds because he had to live in his dad's shadow a little bit.”
Jack has become an important leader for a team that entered the 2019-20 season as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. Jack Hoiberg said that he’s become more comfortable in his role and has taken it upon himself to take on a bigger and more vocal leadership role for a team with big aspirations.
“We have so much time to practice during the year so I feel like going out and this being my third year I feel more comfortable in the role and being able to help out the younger guys,” he said. “Being a point guard, Coach Izzo emphasizes being the leader of the team and being the head of the team, so I’ve really tried to be more vocal this year and do what I can to try and lead this team a little more.”
Fred may never win a national title at Nebraska, but he certainly has the talent and facilities of one of America’s top Universities to do it. Jack may never have his jersey retired from the rafters of the Breslin Center. But what they have is much more valuable. Thankfully for them, they both know it.
Fred is Jack’s “Hero” and it has nothing to do with being raised in a monetarily blessed family. It was because he was raised in a wealthy family. One that truly understands the value of integrity, character, and family. Fred wasn’t about the paychecks, he was about his family. The deposits he made in Jack’s life, were far more valuable than money. That is why one of America's top coaches, has raised one of America’s finest young people.
Moments before Jack left for home over Christmas break, he and I visited in the Spartan locker room. Jack was as excited as any kid on Christmas morning as he told me, “This will be my first time at the new house in Nebraska. I am so excited to see my family and spend time with my dad.”
The Hoiberg’s just aren’t great for Michigan State and Nebraska. They aren’t just great for the Big Ten. They are great people. A father-son whose bond is greater than basketball. The way it should be.
Jack Hoiberg and Michigan State travel to Nebraska on Thursday, February 20th, to take on Fred Hoiberg’s Cornhuskers.
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