Putting a winning combination of special talent on the college hardwood is one thing. However, meshing a menagerie of especially gifted young basketball players to blend into a championship unit is the ultimate goal. In the world of NCAA Division I hoops, Yanni Hufnagel is known as the ‘wizard of recruitment’.
Hufnagel’s journey to becoming the man who’s hard to turn down when reaches out his hand and asks you to become a student/athlete at his school started in a rather inauspicious manner. He actually wanted to be a basketball player himself for his Scarsdale, New York high school team, but he wasn’t talented enough to make the cut.
Yanni Hufnagel started a trend of not accepting defeat, by navigating his way to a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University in Industrial and Labor Relations. After an internship with the NBA Nets franchise, he landed as the graduate assistant on the Oklahoma Sooner staff. Hufnagel started to build his reputation for player development by being credited with the rise of NBA superstar Blake Griffin.
In 2009, he joined the Harvard staff, then made coach/recruiter stops along the way at Vanderbilt, ultimately landing at the University of California. Last April Hufnagel accepted the assistant coaching position under Eric Musselman at the University of Nevada.
How did a proud Jewish man end up going westward from the crimson court at Harvard to the Wolf Pack den in Nevada? Well, he persevered through challenges and scathingly unsubstantiated untruths to be rewarded with a chair beside a former NBA head coach.
Luring the most talented hoop stars to the big name college basketball campuses is not the most difficult task many assistant coaches are responsible. However, bringing in a blend of superstar prep talent to Reno, Nevada the likes of which can match up with this power schools is a challenge. Hufnagel has a history for looking challenges right in the eye and overcoming them.
With the attraction of a former professional coach running the program, plus the moxie of Hufnagel’s ability to convince talented players that his school is the one they need to attend, the future fortunes of Nevada basketball will certainly give their rabid fan base reason to howl.