Head coach Kevin Ollie and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg have a long relationship that goes back to high school. Ollie, from South Central, L.A., and Hoiberg, from Ames, Ia., met each other as seniors on a recruiting trip to Arizona.
Hoiberg stayed local, going to Iowa State while Ollie went 3,000 miles East to Storrs, Conn.
The duo remained friends for two decades and were teammates in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls. Hoiberg was also in the front office with Minnesota and Ollie was hanging on late in his career with the Timberwolves.
Hoiberg returned to the college ranks in 2010 taking over Iowa State, while Ollie was an assistant for two years on Jim Calhoun's staff at UConn starting 2011 before becoming the head coach last year.
Here's Ollie on his relationship with Hoiberg.
"First of all Fred is a great friend of mine," Ollie said. " We met in high school. As a matter of fact we were on the same recruiting visit to Arizona. And both of us didn't decide to go to Arizona, and he went to Iowa State and I went Connecticut and I think it worked out for both of us.
I had an opportunity to play with him at the Chicago Bulls and just one of the greatest teammates I ever been around. Personable, would do anything for his teammates and he retired a little earlier than I did, and then he became the general manager‑‑ assistant general manager at Minnesota. And I was at the end of my career, and he took a chance on a 37‑year‑old point guard. And he signed me for one year, and I thank him for that, also.
"He's just been a great friend of mine, and he's doing a wonderful job at his program. And just with our NBA experience I think we coach the same. We try to manipulate the defense. We try to go to different matchups. I look at him, and when he took the job at Iowa State and just filled in those shoes and just took it to another level. He's just a great person and he's doing a great job with his student‑athletes. I'm a big fan of Fred's."
Hoiberg's feelings are mutual.
"Yeah, 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.
"We went to Tucson together. Lute Olson had one scholarship and I think he told both of us, the first one who accepts gets it. Obviously neither of us took it. And to be able to play with Kevin a year in Chicago, we needed a mentor‑type guy when I moved on after my surgery into the front office, and the first guy to call was Kevin, because I knew the impact he would have on our young players. He owes me, because I resurrected his damn career."
Hoiberg and Ollie are similar in a lot of ways. Neither was a major cog on an NBA team and both kind of floated at the margins. Hoiberg managed to play a decade in the league before injuries stopped his career while Ollie, undrafted out of UConn, worked his way from the CBA to a 13-year NBA career.
"And listen Kevin and I weren't very good players, but to stick around, me for 10, him for 13 years, you have to have some of those qualities to stick, a work ethic, good teammate, and that's what Kevin was," Hoiberg said. "And that's what allowed him to play as long as he did. And he probably could have played a few more years, but I think he was in his mind ready to move on to the next step."
The next stop for Ollie and Hoiberg was to become coaches. Hoiberg is in his third NCAA tournament, but this is his first Sweet 16 appearance after two Round of 32 losses and is 90-46 in four years. Ollie's in his first tournament, has a Sweet 16 under his belt and is 48-18 in two years. The way these two have started their career, it doesn't figure to be their last meeting in March.