Jewish Americans don’t have much of a presence in the world of big-time college and professional basketball. Yanni Hufnagel is the exception to the rule and a standout in more ways than one— of course, Red Auerbach and Red Holzman are Jewish American basketball legends, yet one of the only other contemporary collegiate coaches of note who comes to mind besides Yanni Hufnagel is Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner. Pastner himself described Hufnagel’s uncanny recruiting abilities as “relentless.”
Known primarily for his recruiting prowess and rapport with successful players including NBA sensation Jeremy Lin, Yanni Hufnagel went from an average jump-shooting high school hoopster to team manager at Cornell. Even as a child, he was in love with the game. When he was a boy his Kenner Starting Lineup basketball action figures were never far afield, and one of his first achievements was his adept ability for analysis as a play-by-play and color commentator.
Thanks to his experience at Cornell, Hufnagel then interned as a young man with the New Jersey Nets, which parlayed into an opportunity with the University of Oklahoma. Once he was in Norman, he found himself working with then up-and-coming superstar Blake Griffin. Oklahoma paved the way for Hufnagel to head to Harvard—to study roundball from the sidelines in the hallowed Ivy League as a volunteer assistant, eager to hone his gift for recruiting to a businessman’s fine edge.
Ever the salesman and in an environment where the sales pitch has a different degree of difficulty—scholarship allocations and academic expectations like Harvard’s don’t always attract Top-100 recruits with NBA futures—unless Yanni Hufnagel’s in on the pitch, which many young people are more eager to hear than some might think.
Hufnagel worked with the Harvard Crimson basketball team from 2009-2013 as an assistant coach and recruiter, working with notables Jeremy Lin and Wesley Saunders. After spending the 2013 season with the Vanderbilt Commodore program while spearheading the 29th-best recruiting class in the nation for the most academically driven program in the SEC, Hufnagel was then brought into the fold at the University of California. In 2014 he helped lead the Golden Bears to an NCAA tournament berth and most recently, Yanni Hufnagel is enjoying success with the Nevada Wolf Pack after heading to Reno in 2016.