Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie and Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg have an eerily similar career trajectory.
They met as high school recruits visiting Arizona in the early ’90s.
“[Former Arizona coach] Lute Olson had one scholarship to give and I think he told both of us, the first one who accepts gets it,” Hoiberg said.
Neither chose the Wildcats. Hoiberg stayed home and played for Iowa State. Ollie, who was born in Dallas but grew up in Los Angeles, chose Connecticut.
“I think it worked out for both us,” Ollie said Thursday from Madison Square Garden, the day before his Huskies meet Hoiberg’s Cyclones in the NCAA East Regional semifinals.
Later, during their NBA careers, they played together for the Chicago Bulls.
“[He was] one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever been around,” Ollie said. “Personable; would do anything for his teammates.”
Hoiberg retired a few years before Ollie and was an assistant general manager with Minnesota when he signed Ollie to a one-year contract.
“I was at the end of my career and he took a chance on a 37-year-old point guard,” Ollie said. “And I thank him for that, also.”
Hoiberg joked that Ollie owes him for resurrecting his career before reflecting on their friendship.
“Kevin is as good a person as there is in this business,” he said.
Michigan State has used 15 different starting lineups this season while dealing with injuries and illness.
The Spartans’ top four scorers have missed a combined 29 games and their five primary starters have been available for just 18 of MSU’s 36 games. But everyone has been available for the past two weeks and the Spartans cruised to the Big Ten tournament title.
“That’s who they are,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said. “That’s who we’re preparing for. You watch those other games to see if there’s some consistencies, but they have a full roster and certainly they’re playing at a high level.”
The No. 1-seeded Cavaliers (28-6), who play the fourth-seed Spartans (28-8) at approximately 9 p.m. Friday, have MSU coach Tom Izzo’s attention.
“This is, in some people’s minds, the best team in the country,” he said. “I think it’s a team that doesn’t beat themselves. At the same time, we have got our sea legs under us a little bit. Getting guys back together and everybody seems to be maybe back to normal form.”
“This isn’t about me. It’s about our team and my injury is a minor setback for me but not for this team. We’re still pushing forward and looking forward to winning games in March.” — Iowa State’s Georges Niang, out after breaking his foot in the tourney opener.