Desert uprising

Before Fred Hoiberg became ”The Mayor,” a different sharp-shooting guard was leading the Iowa State men’s basketball team to prominence.

These days, Hoiberg is flourishing as the Cyclones’ head coach. He’s also piquing the interest of NBA franchises with each passing victory. Analysts agree Hoiberg has the expertise, the temperament and the pedigree to succeed at the pro level if he so chooses later in his career.

In the meantime, one of Hoiberg’s backcourt predecessors at ISU is again paving the way as the next big thing.

Phoenix Suns’ rookie skipper Jeff Hornacek isn’t just in the running for NBA coach of the year honors to date – he is the one and only frontrunner. Hornacek’s squad is 26-18 overall and still in the playoff hunt as the season passes its midway point. While that record may not stun anyone at face value, consider this: Phoenix went 25-57 a year ago, then proceeded to trade away three of its leading scorers. Expectations had bottomed out when the franchise brought the 50-year-old Hornacek on board in May of 2013.

Instead of competing for lottery ping-pong balls and suffering through a lost first season in the desert, Hornacek has galvanized the Suns. They’re playing hard, sharing the basketball, building team chemistry and – most importantly – winning. A lot.

In an era of bloated contracts, fundamentally-flawed players and ineffective coaches, Hornacek is a boy wonder of sorts. His attitude has become a refreshing bellwether in a land of apathy and cynicism.

Can’t get through to your players? Hornacek does. Can’t deal with the egos and entourages? Hornacek can. Can’t maximize the talent and potential on a given roster? Hornacek is.

True to form, there is nothing flashy about Hornacek – an unassuming Cyclone standout from 1982-86. He was a calming influence as a 15-year NBA player. The demeanor didn’t change during his time as an assistant with the Utah Jazz, and if you tune in to watch a Phoenix game, you’d see a steady diet of Hornacek still being Hornacek.

The parallels to Hoiberg are impossible to ignore. In his own way, though, Hornacek is revolutionizing the approach to being an NBA coach – a feat many experts predicted Hoiberg would – and still may – someday achieve. The twist is ironic and in a way fitting: Hornacek is becoming a trailblazer in similar fashion to his playing days at ISU. He was the man before the man arrived.

Hoiberg may never leave Ames. His niche could certainly be in the college game, where he is already thriving and succeeding at an impressive level. If Hoiberg does test the NBA waters someday, though, Hornacek is already drawing up a blueprint for success that ”The Mayor” would be wise to mimic.

After all – through the years, time and time again – Hornacek’s example has always been a worthy one for Hoiberg to follow.

Eric Pratt is Sports Editor at The Messenger. He may be reached afternoons and evenings at 1-800-622-6613, or by e-mail at