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Steven M. Sipple: Hoiberg's 'amazing poise' in battle; Barry's big weekend; and Erstad's issues
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Steven M. Sipple: Hoiberg's 'amazing poise' in battle; Barry's big weekend; and Erstad's issues


Things I know, and things I think I know:

We're still in the getting-to-know-him phase with Fred Hoiberg.

Know this: We won't see Hoiberg's temper flare very often, if at all.

"Not like mine back in my day," said Bobby Lutz, hired by NU as special assistant to the new Husker men's basketball coach.

Nor like Bo Pelini's nor Bobby Knight's nor Tom Izzo's. You get the picture.

"Fred's very calm," Lutz told the Journal Star last week. "He challenges players, but in a very calm way. He's a teacher first. Very patient. That's why guys love to play for him because he instills confidence. He corrects, and he does it very, very well."

The 61-year-old Lutz has more than 30 years of coaching experience, most notably 12 years as head coach at Charlotte (1999-2010), which made five NCAA Tournament appearances during his tenure. He was an assistant under Hoiberg at Iowa State in 2010-11, helping build the foundation for the Cyclones' four straight NCAA Tournament appearances under Hoiberg.

"I also want to make sure this is clear: Fred's a fiery competitor," Lutz said. "He's a hugely competitive guy, make no mistake about it. I just think he has amazing poise even in intense situations. He may challenge players aggressively, especially in the locker room at halftime, but he's never going to lose control, and I think that's a great thing because you don't want your team losing control.

"You want to play with emotion and passion, but you don't want it to be so much that you lose your focus."

Lutz, an astute hoops connoisseur, compares Hoiberg's demeanor to that of 42-year-old Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

"The great thing about Fred is he's never going to publicly or even privately embarrass a guy, and I think all humans respond better to that," Lutz said. "He'll challenge, but not degrade."

There's an obvious reason I don't question Hoiberg's competitive fire: The guy played 10 seasons in the NBA and appeared in 24 playoff games, including 18 in the Minnesota Timberwolves' glorious 2003-04 season. Led by Kevin Garnett, Minnesota reached the Western Conference Finals, losing in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers as Shaq and Kobe were just too much.

A 6-foot-4 guard, Hoiberg played 24.3 minutes per game in those playoffs, averaging 6.4 points and 3.7 rebounds. NBA playoff intensity is no place for the casual and indifferent.

By the way, Hoiberg's NBA background is a critical selling point when it comes to recruiting, Lutz said.

"Before his personality, I think the fact he excelled as a college player (at Iowa State) and excelled as an NBA player helps greatly today -- it's probably always helped for a coach to have that background, but I think it helps today more than ever," said Lutz, who then added something that really got my attention.

"The biggest difference in recruiting that I've seen since I started coaching 25 years ago at the D-1 level is this: Back then parents almost always first and foremost wanted to make sure you would help their son get his degree," the coach said. "Now, I don't care what socioeconomic class you're dealing with, sometimes academics is the first question but more often, it's, 'Can you help my son be a pro?'

"That has definitely changed in the last 15 years or so."

I guess there's nothing wrong with players dreaming about competing for an NBA team that goes deep into the playoffs. But the importance of a degree endures. The historically excellent academic folks at NU will try to make sure that part of the equation remains strong no matter who's coaching the team.

* Speaking of academics, Nebraska senior linebacker Mohamed Barry obtaining his bachelor's degree this weekend adds plenty of credibility and substance to his obvious willingness to be a team leader. By the way, he's also the team's leading returning tackler, having recorded 112 stops in 2018.

Most folks would tell you the well-spoken Barry sounds like a leader. But genuine leaders do more than talk a good game. Barry is more than just talk, as his degree strongly suggests.

* Darin Erstad is giving his detractors ample ammunition as his Nebraska baseball team essentially follows the blueprint of the 2018-19 Nebraska men's basketball team. That is, get off to a promising start, earn a projected seed in the NCAA Tournament, but falter badly and teeter on the brink of collapse.

Nebraska (23-18, 12-8 Big Ten) managed only nine hits combined Saturday and Sunday against sub-.500 Northwestern, which ranks next-to-last in the Big Ten with a 5.30 team earned-run average.

Following Monday's series finale, the Huskers will have two tough home series remaining, against Arizona State (33-12, 14-10 Pac-12) and Michigan (34-11, 14-3 Big Ten). The Wolverines have won 11 straight.

The Haymarket Park crowds will be, um, fidgety.

* Nebraska enters Monday's game 2½ games ahead of Northwestern and Rutgers, which share eighth place in the league standings with 8-9 records. Maryland is ninth at 8-10 with two league series remaining. Eight teams make the conference tournament in Omaha -- you know, the tournament the Huskers missed last year.

Yeah, fidgety.

* To review: Nebraska appeared in the top 25 of three post-spring football polls released last week. The Huskers were rated 17th by CBS Sports, 20th by ESPN and 24th by Sports Illustrated.

Any word on Dedrick Mills' academic situation? Or Maurice Washington's legal issues?

Post-spring polls mean next to nothing.

Also, get off my lawn. LOL.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or On Twitter @HuskerExtraSip.


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Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

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