East Lansing — It’s not every day Jack Hoiberg is the center of attention after a Michigan State practice, but it’s not every day a guy is getting prepared for a game with his dad on the opponents’ bench.
Of course, that’s the position Hoiberg, a sophomore walk-on guard for the Spartans, finds himself in as Michigan State heads to Nebraska to take on the Cornhuskers at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday. Fred Hoiberg, Jack’s father, is in his first season as the Huskers’ head coach and Jack admits there’s a different feeling this week.
“Yeah, it's definitely weird,” Hoiberg said after practice this week, surrounded by media for likely the first time in his Michigan State career. “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.”
It hasn’t been the traditional path for father and son to eventually meet at Pinnacle Bank Arena. Coming out of high school, the younger Hoiberg was a standout golfer and had a number of Division I scholarship offers. But the 5-foot-11 guard from Hinsdale (Illinois) Central had a dream of playing college basketball and decided to take a walk-on spot for Tom Izzo’s team.
After redshirting his first season, Hoiberg appeared in 14 games last season. It was his second year in the program when things started to change. Fred Hoiberg was fired as coach of the Chicago Bulls, and instead of sitting around the house, he came to East Lansing and hung around the program, joining Izzo and his staff for meetings and following Michigan State’s run to the Final Four.
“It was good,” Jack Hoiberg said. “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.”
After the season ended, Nebraska fired Tim Miles and turned to Fred Hoiberg, immediately changing the family dynamic.
Now father and son were in the Big Ten.
“(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.”
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. 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.
It wasn’t long, though, before he nixed that idea.
“I thought about it but I feel like I've done well here so far and I kind of been building on something the last few years,” Jack Hoiberg said. “I wasn't ready to give that up.”
He hasn’t, and now he’s ready to face his dad, who is in the middle of a full rebuild with the Huskers (7-18, 2-12 Big Ten). Meanwhile, the Spartans are trying to right the ship.
Michigan State (17-9, 9-6) has lost four of its last five and sits three games behind first-place Maryland in a tie for third. Getting a win against he Huskers will be imperative considering the final four games of the regular season will all be tough. Michigan State hosts Iowa next week and closes the season at home against Ohio State with back-to-back road games against Penn State and Maryland in between.
That makes taking care of business on Thursday so important, and it’s why Jack Hoiberg isn’t confusing the ultimate goal.
“A win for Michigan State,” Hoiberg said when asked how he hopes things play out.
With your name in the box score?
“With Jack Hoiberg’s name in the box score, yeah.”
Izzo wasn’t making any promises about getting Hoiberg in the game, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see him get some early minutes. He played 13 minutes against Western Michigan when Cassius Winston was out and he would likely more than hold his own against Nebraska.
“I'm gonna pull for Jack because I love him,” Izzo said. “But it's got to be strange, you know? I never did it, so I don't know what it's like. But I'm sure it's an interesting time for him, and Nebraska has played so many teams close. They beat Purdue there, had a lot of very close games and then they've had some games where it's probably worn on them. Now they’ve got four or five days to prepare for us like we do for them and it'll be a big game. That place will be packed and the extra hype of the father-son thing will be something.
“We just gotta worry about us and I worry about Jack some and I'll feel better when it's over probably.”
There will be plenty of Hoibergs in the stands. Jack said his mom will be there as will both sets of grandparents, his brothers and plenty of aunts and uncles will be on hand.
“A whole family affair,” he said.
It seems the family can’t lose in this one.
For Jack and the Spartans, though, there’s only one outcome they’re looking for.
Michigan State at Nebraska
Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Pinnacle Bank Arena, Lincoln, Neb.
TV/radio: FS1/WJR 760
Records: Michigan State 17-9, 9-6 Big Ten; Nebraska 7-18, 2-12
Outlook: Michigan State is attempting to get back to .500 on the road, going 3-4 in its first seven away from home. … Fifth-year senior Haanif Cheatham and sophomore guard Cam Mack are each averaging 12.4 points for the Huskers. Mack is also third in the Big Ten in assists, averaging 6.6 per game.