On the surface it sure looks like an odd pairing. Fred Hoiberg, the former NBA player, college superstar, former coach of the Chicago Bulls, for Pete's sake, and now the new face of Nebraska basketball. And the man who has essentially been his shadow for the past two weeks or so since he's been in Lincoln, Matt Abdelmassih.
"When you’re not a former player, your last name doesn’t point towards basketball royalty," Abdelmassih said.
But the two make a perfect match. They first met when both were a part of the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office, Hoiberg as the assistant general manager and Abdelmassih a guy just getting his start in big-time hoops. Some 10-plus years later, they've become close friends.
"Listen, it’s hard for me to call him 'Coach,' because he’s my boy. I call him Fred. I’m very grateful that you get to work with someone that you really like and you consider a friend, and his family are friends. So I don’t take that for granted at any time," Abdelmassih said. "So to be on this journey with him of course is always an honor, because you are going to battle with people that you want to take a bullet for.
"So when you’re selling this place, it’s extremely easy. It doesn’t take any effort whatsoever to sell Fred and who he is as a person and as a coach. And clearly his accolades speak for themselves, so that’s icing on the cake."
While Hoiberg is the genius at scheming up ways for his teams to win, Abdelmassih does most of the work in supplying his boss the pieces he needs to make those schemes work. The business side of Abdelmassih's job requires him to sell Fred Hoiberg to recruits and potential transfer targets.
Business is easier when you genuinely like the guy you're working for, and know him as more than just a co-worker.
"I told Fred, just the growth of him as a coach is something that’s a lot easier to sell," Abdelmassih said. "That experience, I don’t think there’s anybody in college basketball that has the wealth of experience from being a player to front office, to head coach, I don’t think there’s one in college basketball. To have that in your back pocket as something to hit home with all these kids and parents is a huge benefit in what we’re trying to do."
Jervay Green noticed that bond. When Hoiberg and Abdelmassih flew to Scottsbluff the day after Hoiberg's introductory press conference to meet with the junior college standout, Green took notice that Hoiberg already had a key assistant with him. Two weeks later, Green re-upped his commitment to NU.
That loyalty goes back to when Hoiberg was hired at Iowa State in 2010. Abdelmassih, with no college coaching experience, not to mention no recruiting experience, was one of Hoiberg's first hires.
"He’s one of the most important hires I’ve ever made," Hoiberg said. "He does such a good job connecting with kids and getting our foot in the door with some really high-level players."
Why does the partnership work?
"The yin and the yang. I’m completely opposite. I’m the brash, gonna tell you how it is type of person, that maybe he wants to say it but he never will because he’s Fred Hoiberg and he’s the nicest human being in the world," Abdelmassih said. "But then you have me that comes along and is going to tell you exactly what it is. We’ve certainly vibed really well on that part.
"It’s a very fun relationship, it’s almost like we’re brothers — we yell and scream at each other, and we get it off our chest, and move on to the next thing to yell and scream at each other for."
Palmer to Portsmouth
James Palmer will continue his pre-draft preparations this week after the senior was invited to play the in Portsmouth Invitational Tournament.
The four-day event features 64 of the top seniors in the country and scouts from both the NBA and overseas. Palmer joins Tai Webster (2017) and Shavon Shields (2016) as Huskers to play in the event.
Competition begins Wednesday night and live streaming is available on www.portsmouthinvitational.com. Palmer will play at 8 p.m. Wednesday, and he will play Thursday or Friday, depending on Wednesday’s result.