Yanni Hufnagel was cut from his high school basketball team. He never played basketball in college. He graduated from Cornell with a degree in industrial and labor relations. So how did he end up as assistant coach of the Nevada Wolf Pack and one of the nation’s top college recruiters?
Simple. Hufnagel wasn’t discouraged by his lack of playing time; he just played to his strengths. In high school, he planned basketball strategies and read coaching books. He called games for his hometown of Scarsdale’s team. His broadcast partner Ed Cohen noted Hufnagel was already a great basketball analyst. In college, he got an internship with the New Jersey Nets, and things took off from there.
Hufnagel’s big break came in 2007, when he was hired as a graduate assistant by Oklahoma. He endeared himself to then-Oklahoma star Blake Griffin by opening the gym for practice early and late. In 2009, he joined Harvard as assistant coach and recruiter, where he really began to shine. Hufnagel was key in developing Jeremy Lin and in 2011-12 helped lead Harvard to a school-record 26 wins and first-time national ranking. In a CBS Sports survey, he was voted assistant coach most likely to succeed due to recruiting and selected to the “dream team” of assistant coaches.
Yanni Hufnagel went on to Vanderbilt and U.C. Berkeley, where he recruited Jaylen Brown, and he’s been with the Wolf Pack since April 2016. “His track record as an assistant at three high-caliber academic institutions speaks for itself,” said Nevada head coach Eric Musselman. “He’s a high-energy coach and recruiter, and we’re thrilled to have him in our program.”
What does it take to be a great basketball recruiter? A former colleague said, “He’s a great salesman,” and also added, “he’s not afraid to hear no.”