Imagine that your favorite sport was basketball. You were so obsessed with B-ball that you play with basketball player figurines as a child. You begin to develop strategies with these figurines while you teach yourself Red Auerbach’s signature plays. You work on your game tirelessly in your suburban town of Scarsdale, New York. Then, it’s time to tryout for your high school varsity basketball team and you are cut. You simply aren’t that good at the game you love to play. What would you do?
Yanni Hufnagel is the character in this story. He is in his early thirties, is Jewish and is now one of college basketball’s premier recruiters and assistant coaches. In fact, he’s on the verge of making it really big like Brad Stevens.
Yanni Hufnagel did not give up on his favorite game. Instead, he clung to it in order to make the game of basketball his life. He became his high school basketball team’s announcer. He took an unpaid internship washing jerseys for the New Jersey Nets in college. He graduated from Cornell to become a graduate assistant at Oklahoma where he helped Blake Griffin become a star. Then, he finally got his big break.
He became the chief recruiter and assistant coach at Harvard. He was the architect of a team that went 79-24 during his four years. He was able to coach Jeremy Lin, and Yanni Hufnagel was able to recruit despite Harvard’s unwillingness to give out athletic scholarships or lower academic standards. Oh yeah, he also led the Crimson Tide to its first-ever Ivy League championship.
He moved on to Villanova for one season and helped them recruit two NBA draft picks. Yanni Hufnagel put together a nationally recognized recruiting class at UC Berkely. Now he is the assistant coach at the University of Nevada, Reno.