Photo by Iowa State Athletics
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More than an Assistant

David Hobbs uses role to be a mentor, friend, coach

Nobody is quite able to sum up what David Hobbs means to the Iowa State men’s basketball program.

Not even Hobbs himself.

“Well, my title is — hang on, I gotta read it off the door,” Hobbs said. He got out of his chair at his Sukup Basketball Complex office, walked over to the closed door, opened it, checked the sign, and leaned back into the room. “Special assistant to the head coach,” Hobbs said, walking back to his desk. “But basically, what it is, since this position under NCAA regulations is not an on-the-floor situation, I’m more of like a consultant slash mentor.”

On some days he’s a coach. On others, he’s a spectator, somewhat removed from the day-to-day activities of the team.

He has a wealth of basketball knowledge and experience dating back to his first job in 1972 as a high school assistant coach in Virginia, through stints as a college coach, to coaching the Japan National Team in 2009, and including nearly a decade as an NBA scout.

To head coach Steve Prohm, Hobbs is a trusted mentor.

To Iowa State players, he’s just coach Hobbs.

Former Iowa State point guard Monte Morris credited Hobbs with helping his jumpshot and preparing him for the NBA Draft. One of the first people highly touted freshman guard Lindell Wigginton sought out when he arrived in Ames was Hobbs.

“I talk to him almost every day because I’m trying to get to the next level,” Wigginton said.

Regardless of his title, Hobbs’ role with the Cyclones can’t be overstated, even if he isn’t running the show on the sidelines or hitting the recruiting trail.

Coaching the Crimson Tide

Hobbs spent eight years as an assistant, then a head coach at the high school level in the 1970s. For the first half of the 1980s, Hobbs was an assistant coach alongside Tubby Smith at Virginia Commonwealth (VCU).

In 1985, he got his first major college basketball coaching job at Alabama. The Crimson Tide made the NCAA Tournament six times in Hobbs’ seven years as an assistant coach. When longtime Alabama head coach Winfrey “Wimp” Sanderson left in 1992, Hobbs was promoted to head coach, his first time in that role at the college level.

From 1992-1998, Hobbs patrolled the sidelines, coaching Alabama to two NCAA Tournament appearances and a 110-76 overall record, the sixth most wins by a coach in Alabama history.

During five of those six years, a young student manager named Steve Prohm did whatever the coaches and players at Alabama asked.

Hobbs was impressed.

“The more you’re in athletics, the more you realize there’s two kinds of people,” Hobbs said. “One is talkers, and the other is doers. There’s plenty of talkers in this business. There’s not as many doers. As a manager, Steve was always a doer.”

Steve Prohm (left) and David Hobbs (right) are friends off the court and first met when Prohm helped out Hobbs' staff at Alabama in the 1990s.
Photo by Iowa State Athletics

Steve Prohm, who is now Iowa State’s men’s basketball head coach, listed his duties as a student manager at Alabama: “Laundry, rebounding, stuffing envelopes to mail to recruits, running to get people’s lunch.”

While that doesn’t sound glorious, Prohm said it helped him in his coaching career. He made connections with players, other managers and coaches who have helped him along the way.

He also caught the eye of Hobbs, who has remained a mentor and a friend ever since.

Hobbs resigned after the 1998 season after missing the postseason in his final two years.

When 1999 rolled around, both Hobbs and Prohm were gone from the Crimson Tide basketball program, set on different paths that wouldn’t reconnect for another 15 years.

After Alabama

In 2000, Hobbs accepted a job as an assistant coach with one of the most prestigious college basketball programs: the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

His old assistant coaching partner from VCU, Tubby Smith, had won a national championship as the head coach of the Wildcats in 1997-1998. Just two short years later, an assistant coaching job opened up and Hobbs was hired.

From 2000 until Smith left for Minnesota in 2007, Hobbs got to coach future NBA stars in front of one of the most passionate fan bases in America.

“A lot about Iowa State reminds me of when I was at Kentucky,” Hobbs said. “The fans are rabid, the fans are knowledgeable, they really care about their basketball program.”

The main difference, he said, is Kentucky’s tradition. Fans at Kentucky expect the team to succeed. It’s championship or bust for the Wildcats. After all, Kentucky has eight national championships to its credit, whereas the Cyclones haven’t made a Final Four since 1944.

When Smith left, Hobbs accepted a job as an NBA scout and during the next nine years he worked for three NBA teams and watched hundreds, if not thousands, of games.

The only break he took from scouting was in 2009 when he spent a year in Japan.

“That was kind of an interesting situation,” Hobbs said. “It’s probably a two- or three-beer story.”

Gregg Polinsky, the director of player personnel for the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, was a former assistant coach at Alabama under Hobbs in the 1990s. The Nets had an intern who was involved with the Japan Basketball Association. Polinsky recommended Hobbs to the intern, who got the wheels in motion back in Japan.

“There was all kinds of challenges,” Hobbs said. “The culture, the language, the 14 hours difference in time.”

For Hobbs, it was the wrong place at the wrong time. He had grandchildren by that point, and his family was nearly 6,000 miles away, back home in Alabama. He returned to the United States to be closer to home, but his heart remained in basketball.

In the pros

After returning from Japan, Hobbs resumed working as a scout for the Utah Jazz, Brooklyn Nets and the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Jazz, like many professional sports teams, had regional scouts. Hobbs was based out of Birmingham, Alabama, and therefore scouted a lot of SEC and ACC games, but during conference tournament season, the Jazz sent scouts out of their typical regions in order to get a second pair of eyes on players.

One year, Hobbs was assigned to the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. The Jazz’s primary Big 12 scout was based out of Waco, Texas.

“The guy from Waco, he was sending me things,” Hobbs said. “So we got [down the list] to Iowa State, and he listed a couple of guys and his questions about them.

“And then he says, ‘Man, they’ve got this guy. He’s a freshman named Georges Niang. The guy looks like he would be the last guy in the YMCA you’d pick. He’s unkempt-looking, he’s overweight, he can’t jump, he’s got no quickness, but I’ll tell you one thing, that damn guy knows how to score.’”

In two games at the Big 12 Tournament that year, Niang averaged 14.5 points per game on 52 percent shooting. Needless to say, Hobbs was impressed

But the story doesn’t end there.

Fast-forward to the offseason between Niang’s junior and senior seasons, when Niang lost upwards of 30 pounds and was preparing for his final college season and a future in the NBA.

Hobbs was at the Adidas Nations camp in Los Angeles, an elite camp for several dozen of the top college and high school players in the nation. He was talking to some other scouts and watching a few players shoot.

“You kind of knew who everybody was because you had seen them all year,” Hobbs said. But one unfamiliar player caught his eye. “So I went over and I said, ‘Who is that?’”

When another scout told him the skinny forward was the same overweight kid he saw two years earlier, Hobbs couldn’t believe it.

“That ain’t Georges Niang!” Hobbs told the other scout. “Georges Niang was about twice that size.”

A reconnection

Hobbs never really planned to get out of scouting, but in the summer of 2016, the perfect offer arose.

Prohm had wrapped up his first season in Ames. Former Iowa State assistant coach T.J. Otzelberger had taken the South Dakota State head coaching job. Prohm was promoting Neill Berry from the special assistant role to the open assistant coaching job, which left a vacancy in Berry’s old position.

Prohm reached out to Hobbs, who was scouting in North Carolina at Chris Paul’s camp. Hobbs hadn’t been looking for a new job and, frankly, he wasn’t looking to leave his current situation.

“I’ve got five grandkids; they all live in Birmingham,” Hobbs said. “My two kids live in Birmingham. I was happy where I was.”

The two most important factors in any new job, he said, were “who and where.”

His relationship with Prohm was a checkmark for the “who” category.

As for the where?

It took awhile, but because of Prohm and the position, Hobbs knew a great opportunity awaited him in Ames. He eventually accepted the job.

Prohm couldn’t be happier.

“He’s made a big impact on all these guys just from the experience and the knowledge that he can talk to them with,” Prohm said. “When they go visit him in his office, he can share with them a lot of knowledge of high-level college basketball and putting themselves in a position to play in the NBA one day, and that’s what everybody who plays at this level wants to do.”

David Hobbs and Steve Prohm have reunited at Iowa State. Hobbs' mentorship has helped many Cyclones, including Monte Morris.
Photo by Hannah Olson/Iowa State Daily

When Hobbs arrived in Ames before the 2016-2017 season, he was a perfect resource for Morris, Iowa State’s star point guard who was preparing for the NBA in his final season at Iowa State.

Morris needed to improve his jump shot. Morris’ 3-point shooting percentage had decreased throughout his first three years, including a drop to 36 percent during his junior season.

Because Morris isn’t the most physically imposing guard, his ability to knock down jumpers from the outside was critical for his NBA future.

“With him being in the league [as a scout], he told me what they were looking for,” Morris said. “I’m definitely seeing what he was talking about. I’m just happy that I had the chance to work with him over that year.”

Morris isn’t the only one to take advantage of having a former NBA scout in the basketball complex.

Before he ever played his first game as a Cyclone, Wigginton had talked and worked extensively with Hobbs.

“Me and coach Hobbs talk a lot actually,” Wigginton said. “Him being a former NBA scout [is a bonus]. We talk a lot about what I need to work on and what’s working for me best.”

That’s part of the “consultant slash mentor” role Hobbs mentioned, and it’s why he’s been able to stick around the game of basketball for nearly 50 years.

“The NBA’s a different game,” Wigginton said. “He says everybody’s bigger, stronger, faster than you when you’re coming in as a rookie.”

While Hobbs may not have been the reason Wigginton chose Iowa State, he’s part of it. Wigginton said part of the reason he was interested in Iowa State was how Morris was able to grow and become an NBA player as a Cyclone, and some credit for that is due to Hobbs.

“He just brings a wealth of knowledge and he brings a wealth of understanding of being a head coach at this level,” Prohm said. “The responsibilities, the pressures, the things that go on every single day that come at you.”

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