As an assistant coach, Yanni Hufnagel helped lead Harvard University’s men’s basketball team to its first-ever victory during March Madness. Now, after burnishing his reputation as a top-notch scout and tenacious recruiter, Hufnagel is packing his bags and heading south to Vanderbilt University. The announcement was made last week, and I have all the details below.
What’s your new gig?
I’m going to be an assistant coach at Vanderbilt University. It was an opportunity that was just impossible to turn down. Vanderbilt has all the layers and pieces that Harvard does in terms of it being an elite academic school and having a beautiful campus, but now you add in the SEC, scholarships, recent success sending players to the NBA, the academic support, a great city in Nashville, the weather, playing every game on TV…the list goes on.
I’ve been absolutely thrilled to have the chance to work at Harvard; we’ve done so much in my four years here. Last week I called our players and incoming recruits and told them I was leaving. It’s been really tough to do, and it should be tough to do. If it weren’t tough, I would question my investment in Harvard basketball and our players.
You’re considered one of the top recruiters in college basketball, and you’ve worked with two NBA stars—Jeremy Lin and Blake Griffin—during their college careers. What do you look for in a player?
There are three basic things I ask: 1. Are you a winner? 2. Are you coachable? 3. Are you someone I’d like to be around? I guess in some ways those three things go hand-in-hand. I’ve always been around really good coaches, and I’ve learned that four sets of eyes are better than one set when evaluating a prospect. You really get a good feel for someone on the phone too. The ease of a conversation can be very telling.
As for being considered a good recruiter, I’m always humbled hearing that. I try to approach this job with a positive spirit and contagious energy and let everything work itself out from there.
Is there “Moneyball” for basketball? Are there tricks for finding players that others have overlooked and winning with them?
Quantitative analysis is certainly gaining steam in basketball. The NBA has seen quite a bit of a transformation already. Ken Pomeroy is doing it for college basketball. I never see basketball becoming like baseball though, because it’s batter versus pitcher there. Basketball is so much more fluid.
Can you dunk?
No. I can shoot the ball with time and space and with my feet set. Having said that, I’ve coached a lot of really good shooters whom I would rather take our last shot than me.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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