NU men's hoops assistants, 4.15

Nebraska special assistant to the head coach Bobby Lutz talks to the media on April 15 at the Devaney Sports Center.

It was one of those places that hosts a big recruiting basketball tournament for high schoolers or junior college players, so maybe Atlanta or Kansas City or Seattle or Frisco, Texas, or Mequon, Wisconsin.

Bobby Lutz does remember the restaurant, though, where Fred Hoiberg first put pen to, well, some kind of paper product, and drew up the five-out offense he had in mind to feature prized addition Royce White in Hoiberg’s second year at Iowa State. Lutz had been on Hoiberg’s staff in Year One, but by this time, was an assistant at North Carolina State.

The pair stayed in touch after Lutz returned to his home state to be near his father, who had suffered a heart attack, and had plenty to talk about at.

What better place than a fast-food joint?

“We met that next summer and, at a Wendy’s, he drew up and we talked about his five-out offense with Royce White handling the ball a lot,” Lutz, now the special assistant to Nebraska’s new head coach, recalled Monday. “We did it on napkins and talked it out. …

“He had it in his mind, but he wanted to talk about it.”

White ended up averaging 13.4 points (53.4 percent shooting), 9.3 rebounds and five assists and led the Cyclones to a 23-11 record (12-6 in the Big 12 Conference) and an NCAA Tournament win.

Lutz and Hoiberg only spent one season together, but found so much similarity in the way they think about basketball that they eventually at least partially teamed up again when Lutz joined the Windy City Bulls — the G-League team to Hoiberg’s NBA Chicago Bulls at the time — for the 2016-17 season.

“I’ve said before I’d have never left Iowa State had it not been for family reasons,” said the 61-year-old Lutz. "It was the right thing when the N.C. State opportunity came. Otherwise I’d have never left Fred. He would have had to fire me to get rid of me, because we’re so much alike philosophically on and off the court, but particularly how you play the game offensively.”

Lutz, a Hickory, North Carolina, native with a hickory-tinged accent, has always preferred to play up-tempo and give his players plenty of room to work. Hoiberg has been the same way since he first started coaching in 2010.

“He’s really intelligent and he really understands the offensive game, obviously, but a lot of folks do,” Lutz said of Hoiberg. “I think what is similar to how I tried to coach, but what he’s really good at, is he instills tremendous confidence in his offensive players. I always gave freedom on offense, provided you play hard and rebound. You’ve got to guard a little bit and rebound, and then I’m going to give you some freedom.

“That’s his approach, but then he really has become even better at spacing and spreading people out, taking advantage of mismatches. … He sees advantages and disadvantages very, very quickly and he’s able to take advantage of them.”

Both have used advancements in technology and analytics — particularly during their respective years in the professional ranks — to both reinforce and also tweak their offensive philosophies to what the data shows.

“They say numbers don’t lie, and a lot of times they don’t when it comes to those analytics,” Hoiberg said the day he was introduced as NU’s head coach. “After the game you always go back and look at where you’re getting your shots and where you’re giving up shots, and when you win that shot chart that you look at at the end of the game, if you take less contested twos and more threes and get more rim attempts, you generally win the game.”

In 10 years at North Carolina-Charlotte, Lutz’s teams never had less than 35.7 percent of their shots come from three-point range, according to KenPom.com data, and ranked in the top 51 in the nation eight times. The explosion of data and advanced metrics have only reinforced his beliefs.

“For example, an open three on the break by a great shooter is a great shot, percentagewise, for several reasons,” he explains. “First of all, in the half-court it’s tougher to get open shots than it is on the break, so if you can get an open look on the break for a good shooter, he’s going to make it at a high percentage. And guess what? Analytically, if you miss a shot on the break, it’s easier to get an offensive rebound because the defense isn’t set yet. That’s where analytics proves what for years you just felt.”

Lutz and Hoiberg are both film junkies, they both like watching other teams and looking for plays, concepts and movements to incorporate. They’ve been sounding boards for each other on the court and in meeting rooms and even at Wendy’s.

As recently as July, Lutz told the Charlotte Observer, “It’s very likely I won’t coach again.” The chance to reunite with a kindred offensive spirit and attempt to turn Nebraska into an offensive juggernaut, though, changed that sentiment.

“It was a no-brainer from my standpoint,” Lutz said.

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.


Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

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