Fred Hoiberg’s first major recruit of his head coaching career at Iowa State was not a player, but somebody behind the scenes.
In his introductory news conference on Wednesday, Hoiberg and ISU Director of Athletics Jamie Pollard announced that T.J. Otzelberger will continue to serve as the Cyclones’ associate coach and lead recruiter.
The need for Iowa State to continue have Otzelberger on its staff was one of the key points Hoiberg made in his initial interview with Pollard.
“He told me that he understood that his ability to be successful at Iowa State was about who he surrounded himself with,” Pollard said. “And he told me that his No. 1 priority, however possible, was to retain T.J.”
After Greg McDermott announced he was leaving for Creighton on Sunday, speculation surfaced about whether Otzelberger would stay in Ames or follow McDermott’s exit.
Otzelberger began his career at Iowa State four years ago as part of McDermott’s staff. In that time he worked as the Cyclones’ lead recruiter, landing standout players such as Mike Taylor, Craig Brackins and the majority of the remaining players on the Cyclone roster.
The first call Hoiberg made after his meeting with Pollard was to Otzelberger, who committed himself to becoming a member of Hoiberg’s staff.
“I’m thrilled to have T.J.,” Hoiberg said. “T.J. has been a very good recruiter, and has had some very good talent come to Ames and will continue to do that.”
Otzelberger was unabashed in casting his full support behind the direction Hoiberg plans to take the ISU basketball program.
“The vision and passion of this athletic department, nobody else has those characteristics as much as Fred. It is a dream come true to be a part of it. I couldn’t be happier,” Otzelberger said. “There is no doubt in my mind that the experience he is the guy to lead this program. Fred’s experience in this game and the basketball minds he’s been around, he’s been preparing for this opportunity for a lot of years.”
One of the biggest questions that had surfaced in the wake of McDermott’s departure was if Iowa State could hold on to the incoming recruits that had already commited to the Cyclones.
Iowa State’s three committed recruits, forwards Melvin Ejim and Jordan Railey, and guard DeMarcus Phillips were all recruited by Otzelberger.
Hours after McDermott’s decision was announced Ejim said that one of the main reasons he wanted to come to Iowa State was Otzelberger, and if he left Ejim said he might reconsider his previous commitment.
Otzelberger had been in constant communication over the last few days with the recruits, telling them to be patient and wait to see how the coaching search played out.
As soon as Hoiberg was confirmed as coach, Otzelberg and Hoiberg called Ejim, Railey and Phillips.
“We talked with them last night and reiterated to them their commitment to Iowa State is to the overall goals of this university and this athletic department’s goals,” Otzelberger said. “The plan that [Hoiberg] sold to those guys, I think they really believe in the direction of this program. They all committed here knowing how great of an institution this is and that it is something they would like to be a part of.”
All of the current Cyclone players were also enthused with the choice to keep on Otzelberger on staff.
“A lot of us have a really good relationship with T.J. I think it will bring back a lot of stability to the program as well,” said guard Scott Christopherson.
With the May 19 deadline for signing recruits approaching, Otzelberger and Hoiberg will turn their attention now to making the moves to fill out the remaining spots in the Cyclones’ lineup.
“When I get back here on Monday, I told T.J. that we are going to hit the ground running,” Hoiberg said. “There probably won’t be a lot of sleep in these first few weeks, laying out the plan, talking to coaches, flying out and seeing our recruits. We’re going to have to do that right away.”