When it comes to a family affair tonight with the Michigan State Spartans coming into Lincoln to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers, I’m not talking about my own household where the husband and I are pitted against each other in a classic good (MSU) versus evil (Nebraska). Instead this one will be between the player benches as a father-son duo. The Michigan State Spartans feature redshirt sophomore guard Jack Hoiberg while the Nebraska Cornhuskers bench is led by Head Coach Fred Hoiberg.
While it is not all that uncommon for brothers to square off against each other from time to time, a father coaching a team facing his son is far less common. Kentucky, Kansas, Iowa, and even Michigan State all have the head coach’s son (or sons in the case of the Hawkeyes, and on scholarships whereas the others are walk-on’s) on their roster rather than other D1 opponents. So the match-up tonight brings in a unique twist not commonly seen, and a fun human element we can expect to hear talked about by the announcers quite a lot tonight during the game.
After being fired by the Chicago Bulls last season, Coach Hoiberg was a bit restless and in need of a distraction to keep his mind off the unfortunate turn of life events. Luckily for him Coach Izzo was there to welcome him into East Lansing for a few weeks to enjoy time with his son Jack who is a walk-on with the Spartans. Jack passed up on multiple D1 golf scholarships to walk-on to the program at MSU and redshirted his freshman year before appearing in 14 games last season.
So for a few weeks Coach Hoiberg got to enjoy chalk talks with Coach Izzo and spending time on the sideline watching his son and the Spartans in practices and attending their games around the midwest as they wrapped up conference play en-route to both conference titles. Fred even jokes that he was a valuable contribution to the team’s eventual final four run as he helped them adjust to the loss of Joshua Langford and then Nick Ward. Coach Hoiberg adds that he is “kind of the unsung hero in that Final Four run last year” with some of the actions Izzo installed that he drew up on whiteboards.
Asked about the experience, Jack had this to say: “It was good. He was sitting down in the coaching staff meetings, even helping us on the court a little bit, helping us with our offense, doing what he can because when he was sitting out he was bored. So, he wanted to do anything he can to get back in the game. It was cool to have him in town for a couple games.”
Coach Hoiberg accepted the Nebraska job March 30, and had his introductory press conference. However, he was in Washington, DC the very next day watching his son and the Spartans slay the Blue Devils in the Elite 8, a game Fred dubs “one of the greatest college basketball games I’ve ever seen,” and was in Minneapolis to cheer on Jack and the Spartans in their Final Four match-up.
Overall, his comments on the experience are quite positive. “I think the world of Coach Izzo for everything he’s accomplished, the type of person that he is first and foremost, how down to earth he is. It was so fun to be a part of that journey they had last year to the Final four, winning both Big Ten championships … and just to see the way that Michigan State kept going through all the adversity that they had and injuries they had a year ago. It was a fun thing to spend time not only with the coaches but with Jack and the family.”
As a result of his time with the Spartans, expect Coach Hoiberg to have a bit of a jump on other first year head coaches in terms of knowledge of the opponent tonight as a result.
An Off-Season Decision To Make For Jack
When Fred Hoiberg accepted the spot at Nebraska, Jack headed to Lincoln in the spring as his parents found a new home in the town where Fred Hoiberg was born and Fred accepted the job his grandfather Jerry Bush once held. Jack said he spent some time at the Huskers’ facilities working out and the idea of transferring to be with his dad crossed his mind. He and his father ended up discussing him transferring to Nebraska. But Fred got to see how Jack fit in at MSU and what he brings as a walk-on.
“I thought about it, but I feel like I’ve done well here so far and I’ve kind of been building us up in the last few years,” Jack said. “I wasn’t ready to give that up. He let me make the decision on my own. He was like, ‘You can come if you want, but I know you love it there. I do love it here. I love the family atmosphere, everything that Michigan State is about. I feel like I’ve been growing here every year and I’ve built something, and I didn’t just want to leave that and just see where my opportunity goes from here.”
As for Jack as a player on the team, Coach Izzo had this to say about the younger Hoiberg: “He has respect from all of the guys. You look at Jack and say, ‘This kid has really gotten better each year.’ 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.”
The Looming Face Off
Fred Hoiberg tried to get back in Izzo’s ear a few days ago per his comments in an interview yesterday. “I tried to call into Izzo’s radio show (Monday) night, but they didn’t answer. I was gonna be Bob from Saginaw and I had a good question for him.”
And if Jack makes it to the floor? “Now that’ll be weird. That’ll be strange.” As for the rest of the family? The Hoiberg twins who attend Pius X High School in Lincoln “better wear red.” As for his parents, “ I’m sure one will wear green, one will wear red.” But Fred doesn’t have a clue what his wife intends to wear.
As for the game plan when it comes to accounting for Jack in case he sees floor time?
“Crowd his left hand” Coach Hoiberg said with a smile talking about Jack. “He’s quick. He’s got his dad’s quickness and his mom’s ability to shoot. So it’s pretty good, pretty complete player.”
As for the Spartan son? “Yeah, it’s definitely weird,” Jack said after a practice earlier this week. “I can’t say I’ve ever experienced anything like it. I’ll be able to tell you more about it after the game, but yeah, it’s just gonna be a different thing for sure. A lot of emotions, but it’ll be fun, too.”
Jack was hoping to get home in time for a late dinner at the family’s house Wednesday night, however. No word on whether father-son trash talking occured or insider knowledge was traded on game plans. But it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary if they did talk Big Ten basketball in general at least. “(We talk) a lot about basketball because now we’re both in the Big Ten,” Jack Hoiberg said. “So we have a lot of stuff to talk about in terms of who we both got next, talk about what they do, but also just talking about school life, whatever.”
Is Jack worried his dad will have all the secrets on not only him, but his teammates after being around the team last season?
“I know something about him, too,” Jack said with a smile, “so it evens out.”
However, just so it’s clear for the record, Jack was sure to add that his goal remains “a win for Michigan State” and with the hopes to see his name in the box score. As for any trash talking from the floor? Jack had this to say when asked last fall: “Depends on the score. Depends on the score, depends on how things are going. We’ll have to see on that one.”
Hopefully no matter who wins, happy family pictures like this one remain the norm after tonight:
Happy Father’s Day to all the great Dads out there. Special shoutout to my kids for making me the luckiest dad in the world. Love you guys! pic.twitter.com/6gnpSCzOr7— Fred Hoiberg (@CoachHoiberg) June 16, 2019
"This is my first time ever not rooting for my dad's team. It was fun. I'm sure it wasn't as fun for him."— Kevin Sjuts (@kevinsjuts) February 21, 2020
Fun, playful moment as @JackHoiberg enters Fred Hoiberg's press conference following Michigan State's win at Nebraska. #Huskers pic.twitter.com/74EKAGgTop
And Mrs. Hoiberg ended up as Switzerland in the end. Final score aside, this was one great night for the Hoibergs.