It's incredible really. As of Tuesday afternoon, Fred Hoiberg had just lost arguably his top recruiter and a staffer that had been by his side dating back to his time with the Minnesota Timberwolves in Matt Abdelmassih. No less than 24 hours later though, with the future of program in peril and doubt, Hoiberg lured T.J. Otzelberger back to Ames in an amazing turn of events.
Now that we've all had time to catch our breath and gather ourselves from the flurry of moves within the program this past week, it would seem only appropriate to step back and analyze what Otzelberger's return to Iowa State means for the program.
The Recruiting Impact
Dating back to his time under Greg McDermott, T.J. Otzelberger has always been regarded as an ace recruiter. Just looking strictly at Rivals profiles for high school and junior college players, Otzelberger can be directly credited with reeling in 16 players for Iowa State all the way back to the 2006 class. Recruiting information can sometimes be a little shaky and not all guys will share who their primary recruiter was, but you have to imagine Otzelberger was heavily involved with dozens more during his tenure under McDermott and Hoiberg.
To his credit, Otzelberger can be directly attributed to guys like Mike Taylor, Craig Brackins, Diante Garrett and Justin Hamilton, who have all played in the NBA. He's also been the lead man for guys like Melvin Ejim, Scott Christopherson and current Cyclones, Naz Long and Matt Thomas.
Otzelberger has also been instrumental in opening up a recruiting pipeline to his native state of Wisconsin. In all, he's led the charge in bringing in six different Cyclones from the badger state, which includes Taylor, Garrett, Christopherson and Thomas.
I don't want to disparage Abdelmassih's recruiting abilities, but we can assuredly say that Otzelberger brings a recruiting pedigree and proven track record back to Ames that should pay immediate dividends. Otzelberger enters the picture at a crucial time as well.
Most of the high school talent worth pursuing for the 2015 class have narrowed down their choices and will commit to schools in the next few weeks, but the summer evaluation period brings perhaps the most critical moment in Hoiberg's brief history as the head coach at Iowa State.
We know what the Cyclones will lose in the spring of 2016. Georges Niang, Jameel McKay, Naz Long and Abdel Nader are all entering into their senior years and the task of replacing that type of firepower will be monumental. And if that isn't enough, Monte Morris could play himself into a first-round pick with an excellent junior campaign.
Among the reinforcements Iowa State is pursuing in the 2016 class are Miles Bridges (#19 overall), Kassoum Yakwe (#115 overall) and Amir Coffey (#43 overall). Between both Bridges and Coffey especially, Iowa State is in excellent position already. Adding the Otzelberger touch could be enough to sway commitments.
Experience On the Bench
Beyond Otzelberger's recruiting prowess, he has also proved himself to be a reputable game planner and advanced scout. During Otzelberger's final two years in Ames, his primary tasks (outside of recruiting) were implementing game plans and heading up advanced scouting reports of opponents.
Having spent more than a decade on collegiate benches, Otzelberger's experience dwarfs that of Abdelmassih, who had only been promoted to a full assistant under Hoiberg. Getting the chance to experience Pac 12 basketball these last two years can only add to the wealth of knowledge and exposure that Otzelberger can bring to the table as Hoiberg's right hand man.
From a player development stand point, there should be only an abbreviated warming up period with Otzelberger and the current Iowa State roster. Niang and Long are the only Cyclones that have played under Otzelberger, but familiarity with the personnel shouldn't be a major issue as Thomas and Morris were both being recruited while he was still in Ames. Additionally, McKay and Deonte Burton are both products of Milwaukee, which as we already established is familiar turf for the Wisconsin native.
The Safety Net
(you're not going to like this section)
Let's get it all out there. We know that Fred Hoiberg's health is always going to be an issue. There's simply no way avoiding the fact that for the duration of The Mayor's life, his ticker is going to command constant attention and maintenance, which will require him going under the knife from time to time.
Hoiberg already walked away from a chance to extend his playing career even after he was medically cleared simply because there was chance his heart wouldn't be up to the NBA grind. Granted, it was a minute, unlikely chance, but he needed a guarantee.
Coaching presents an entirely different level of stress and even the greats get burned out from time to time. For every Coach K or Jim Boeheim, there are guys like Urban Meyer and Bill Cowher, who opted to put their health or family first and step away from the game (even if it was a brief stint away in Meyer's case).
Nobody, and I mean nobody outside of Fred Hoiberg and his family know what the future holds for The Mayor. There are message board "insiders" who will tell you that they heard this or they heard that, but it's all speculation. The truth is, Hoiberg is probably just as likely to be still patrolling the sidelines in Hilton Coliseum 20 years from now as he is to becoming the next head coach of the Chicago Bulls (who still currently have a coach by the way). Whatever happens...well, happens.
But let's play the hypothetical game for a moment. Let's say Hoiberg has to step aside for health reasons. Maybe he doesn't step down, but simply has to take some time away. Who better to turn to than a guy who's been a part of Iowa State basketball for all but two years since 2006? Otzelberger offers that type of security and he's put in enough time to have earned the benefit of the doubt should that type of situation ever arise.
Okay, and if the dreaded NBA dream job comes along? If there's one off season Iowa State fans should be fearful, it's going to be following the '15-'16 season. Losing Niang, McKay, Nader and Long (and maybe Morris) will be emotional enough and if Iowa State puts together a magical post season run, Hoiberg's star will never shine brighter. Losing the face of "Hoiball" in Niang after four incredible years and taking the Iowa State program to new heights would seem like the perfect time to move on to another opportunity if Hoiberg is ever going to do it.
Making a logical leap, maybe Otzelberger's eagerness to come back to Iowa State suddenly makes sense. He gets a year to re-acclimate himself with the program, build up connections with the players and reestablish recruiting ties. Essentially, is it possible that a succession plan was formed and Otzelberger became the coach-in-waiting behind closed doors?
(take a breath)
It almost kind of adds up, doesn't it? Now, before we all start freaking out, let's remember that if something like this comes to be, Otzelberger's name has always been thrown around as a possible replacement should Hoiberg ever leave for an NBA job. Sure, he's never been a head man, but all coaches have to get their first head gig somewhere, including the one Iowa State hired in April 2010.
For the time being though, the sky isn't falling, so there's no use in pretending it is or it eventually will. Fred Hoiberg will be Iowa State's head coach for the '15-'16 season, so for now, life is good.
The Final Verdict
I really don't want to tarnish Abdelmassih's reputation and disparage his legacy at Iowa State, but make no mistake, the Cyclone program got better this week.