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Interview With An ISU Legend

Jeff HornacekWRNL was able to interview one of the greatest shooters in Iowa State history today, Jeff Hornacek. He weighs in on his career at Iowa State and the Utah Jazz, and his coaches at each respective stop, as well as his outlook on the Fred Hoiberg hire.

WRNL: What are you up to these days? What’s going on with you, your family? What do you have going on in your life now?
Jeff Hornacek: Now that I’m retired from playing, I’m probably busier than ever. I took the first four or five years to kind of lay low and relax and watch the kid’s games and help them a little bit. The last four or five years I’ve helped the Utah Jazz. I guess they call me a special assistant shooting coach, where I come in part time, every week for two to three days and work with some of the players like Andrei Kirilenko and whatever young guys are here and anybody else that is maybe struggling a little bit shooting. I try to put my two cents in and try to help them out. Besides that, I do a lot of charity golf things and those are always fun to get out in the community, like what we’re doing this weekend. AT&T has asked me to be a part of the Weekend of Fun.  I’m actually going to be at the Disney on Ice this Saturday in Sioux City as part of this promotion, just to get out there and visit with the people and especially in that market over there with the great sports fans. It’ll be fun and that’s what we’re doing.

WRNL: It’s interesting that you kind of touch on that you’ve been a consultant with the Jazz. Obviously we’ve read that you’ve been working with [Andrei] Kirilenko and some of those other guys. Do you see yourself in more of a coaching role in the future?
JH: I always believed I was going to be a coach, whether at the college level or the pro level, but I’ve kind of put it off because of my kids. That’s why I retired, because I wanted to watch them grow up. My youngest is now a junior in high school. I’m at that point where I’m starting to consider different things. I’m sure in the next year or two I’ll probably do it full time, but it’s worked out well for these last five years that I’ve been able to be involved with the coaching on a part time basis and I’m still able to watch my kids grow up. It’s been a good situation.

WRNL: If you had to say, does your coaching style resemble more of a Johnny Orr, or a Jerry Sloan?
JH: I would probably say it would obviously end up being a combo. When you have two great coaches like that, you take bits and pieces from everybody. I think I would probably be more 60-40 on the Johnny Orr style. I personally like to run the ball a bit more, although the Utah Jazz have been doing a lot more of that recently than maybe when I played. I love the discipline and the ability to run plays because you need to execute when the big games are on the line and when you’re down to the end of the game when you need a bucket, you can’t be running around out there going by athletic ability. You’ve got to be able to execute a play. So I’ve obviously got that mentality from Jerry Sloan at the end of games like that.

WRNL: Between those two coaches, both of them definitely have the reputation as being hard nosed guys. We’ve heard some legendary stories about Coach Orr and Coach Sloan where they struck fear into the guys they were coaching and always commanded respect.
JH: I’ll give you a story. We did an event for a booster club and I was at it and Coach Orr was at it and I was going to hit him in the face with a pie, with no fear, it was just a fun thing. I’m not sure I could do that to Jerry Sloan. They’re both great guys. Coach Orr is more of the guy that could get after guys but you could also joke around with him quite a bit. They’re both different in their ways, but for fear factor I would say Jerry Sloan, although he’s not that way anymore. He’s lightened up quite a bit since I was playing.

WRNL: What do you miss most about playing basketball?
JH: I think just the camaraderie with the guys and the competition. When you’re an athlete and you played at this level, your goal is to play against the best guys in the world, win or lose. It’s the competitiveness, and going out there and for that night, can you be better than the next guy and the next team. That’s what you miss. You have to take up that slack. You saw when [Michael] Jordan decided to retire, he wanted that challenge with baseball and then with golf. You’re always looking for something. For most guys, that’s probably the hardest thing. When they retire, they lose that ability to really compete in something. That’s what drives everyone to get to this level. That’s the biggest loss when you retire, is that the void is there.

WRNL: Well I think you know where I’m going with the next one as this is an Iowa State site, but what do you think about the Fred Hoiberg hire as head coach, and also, who’s a better shooter, you or Fred Hoiberg?
JH: Fred’s a great coach. I’m a better shooter. He’s still relatively young and I’m getting a little old. He might be able to get me now. I do think Fred is a tremendous hire for Iowa State. He’s a local guy that has great ties to the school. He’s played at this level. He’s understood what it takes to win. He’s always been a hard nosed player and that translates to how you coach. I think he’ll do a great job there. He’ll get these guys to play hard. With his experience being in a front office and evaluating players, that’s going to help him judging talent to bring to Iowa State. I think he’s going to do a great job.

WRNL: As far as your Iowa State experience, it’s been well documented, coming from the state of Illinois, playing under Coach Orr and all the great success you had at Iowa State including eventually having your number retired. Can you walk us through how you ended up at ISU, what other schools were looking at you and what drew you to Ames?
JH: It’s kind of a long story, but no division one schools offered me a scholarship. With Western Michigan it was down to the final two guys and they ended up giving it to the other guy. There was a [former] Bobby Knight assistant named Tom Miller who had [taken] over at Cornell. He contacted us about coming out to Cornell and help start that program up, but it was an Ivy League school that didn’t give scholarships and by the time I decided, it was a little late in the year, so I going to sit out a year and go second semester. During that time, there was assistant at Iowa State named Gary Cook who was from the Chicago area and knew my dad and saw him at a Thanksgiving basketball tournament, and asked what I was doing, and my dad said we were still waiting on this Cornell thing, and he said, ‘we’re having some problems with our guards. If JHeff wants to come and walk on for us, I think I can get that done’. When that was presented to me, my family didn’t have a lot of money, and at Cornell, even with financial aid, I was still going to be paying a pretty good amount, so I said, ‘You know what, I’ll take a chance at getting a scholarship". The two guys that were here were Chicago guys and I kind of knew of them, and I said ‘I think I might have a chance to play and to make it', and that’s what we did. Without really knowing much about the school, I decided to come out here. It was a great coaching staff and great guys. We didn’t have the most talented team, but every guy got along well and played hard, played together and we had some success.

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WRNL: You had a tremendous career, having your number retired, playing in the pro game, playing in the NBA finals against the greatest player of all time, a couple three point contests, the All-Star game, but you also won the "Two-ball competition" with Natalie Williams from the WNBA’s Utah Starzz. Would you say that’s your greatest accomplishment as a pro?
JH: Greatest accomplishment? (laughter). That’s a fun thing to do and with Natalie, we’re here in Utah, we had our little strategy and it worked out well. She was knocking down shots and that’s big thing when you win those competitions. The guys probably all neutralize each other but it’s the girls, and if you can get one that’s making her shots, you’re going to win it, and that’s what happened. We shot the ball very well and ended up winning it.

WRNL: One last quick one; 1986 in the NCAA tournament, you hit the game winner against Miami. Would you say that is the greatest shot of your career at any level?
JH: There’s a few plays that stick out. Even when we went to the NBA finals, that was exciting, but that win and the win over Michigan that year, when I look back, that was probably the pinnacle of excitement, not only with our team and coaches, but the support from the state of Iowa and the fun it was when you’re a team that’s not expected to do much, and then all of a sudden you win a couple games. That was a great time we had during those years. That’s why it’s fun for me to have this opportunity with Alltel and AT&T to come back to a part of Iowa, where’s maybe there’s some fans out there that remember those days, and to come to Sioux City and say hello. That would be a great thing for me to get back. I don’t get a chance to get back to Iowa all that much, so to be able to do something for AT&T and have this Weekend of Fun and have people come out and visit and say hello and upgrade their services and transfer them over, that would be a great thing for me. 

*Weekend of Fun is a joint effort by Alltel and AT&T to remind the Alltel subscribers that they have to replace their current phone or data device with one from AT&T so there’s no interruption of their wireless service. As part of this Weekend of Fun, there are some events out there that Alltel customers can go onto a web site, www.weekendoffun.com, for information and the chance for two free tickets to an event in Sioux City, Iowa or Bismarck, North Dakota. Jeff Hornacek will be at the Tyson Events Center this Saturday.