When it came to high-energy assistant basketball coaches in the NCAA, few could match Yanni Hufnagel. His energy levels and commitment to channeling that energy into recruiting were nearly legendary in college basketball. No matter where he was coaching, Hufnagel was totally committed to the program and to making it better by putting all his energy into recruiting. His reputation and diligence led to him becoming a highly-sought-after assistant coach. Not bad for a kid who was cut from his high school basketball team in Scarsdale, New York at the age of 16.
He initially demonstrated high basketball IQ the season he was cut from the high school team, as he assumed the color commentary role for the high school game broadcasts. His analysis and Bill Raftery-like comments made him special considering he was simply a 16-year old on local access television. Hufnagel then moved on to Cornell University, where he served as the basketball team’s student manager. He then headed to the University of Oklahoma, at age 23, and became a graduate assistant for the men’s basketball team for 2 seasons under Jeff Capel. Yanni was lucky enough at that time to work closely with future NCAA and NBA superstar Blake Griffin. This experience helped Yanni Hufnagle make the decision to move into coaching.
Hufnagel gained his first coaching experience as an assistant under Tommy Amaker for 4 years at Harvard University. This is where he developed his ability to connect with athletes, like Jeremy Lin and Wesley Saunders. Yanni also had the opportunity to recruit Iona Prep student-athlete Matt Ryan while at Harvard. Although Ryan ended up choosing Notre Dame over Harvard, Ryan openly admitted that Hufnagel was impressive in his pursuit of him.
Yanni moved on to Vanderbilt from Harvard and spent one season coaching there before he was lured away to the University of California by Cuonzo Martin. Although the two did not know each other, Martin knew of Hufnagle’s dedication and drive and wanted him to be part of the team. Yanni Hufnagel, at the young age of 31 in 2014, had quickly ascended through the college coaching ranks like a rocket.