CBS college basketball analyst Jon Rothstein once described Yanni Hufnagel as “the college basketball version of the energizer bunny.” During his career as a coach and recruiter, Hufnagel left a tremendous impression on all whom he worked with.
Hufnagel began as a student manager at Cornell but officially committed to coaching while working as a graduate assistant under Jeff Capel at Oklahoma. During those two seasons, he also had the privilege of working with future NBA star Blake Griffin. Hufnagel describes working with Capel and Griffin and witnessing their work ethic as “a major key that turned the engine for me.”
Harvard coach Tommy Amaker initiated Hufnagel into his first position as a coach and recruiter. While at Harvard, he became a standout recruiter, prospering in developing relationships with student-athletes. Furthermore, he was notorious for acquiring talent from the West Coast, such as Jeremy Lin and Wesley Saunders. Matt Ryan was another top recruit whom Hufnagel pursued with dogged determination. Even though Ryan decided on Notre Dame, Hufnagel left a lasting impression on the young player. Ryan once explained that their first phone conversation took place while the coach checked out at the supermarket. He also described Hufnagel as a man that “basically sees the future.”
When an offer from Vanderbilt arrived, Hufnagel jumped at the opportunity to advance his career. After just one season there, he then accepted an offer to join coach Cuonzo Martin at the University of California, Berkeley. The opportunity was particularly appealing to Hufnagel because it placed him geographically closer to the abundance of prospects on the West Coast.
No matter his college affiliation, Yanni Hufnagel was always relentless and determined in his pursuit of improving the program he was with. He was devoted to basketball and passionate about his work on and behind the sidelines. Hufnagel described his approach to his career best when he said, “I think when you’re passionate about what you do and what you believe in, in a kid, a prospect, then it doesn’t really feel like work.”