LINCOLN — Emma Hoiberg knows a thing or two about basketball.
The knowledge almost comes with the last name, which carries some weight in basketball circles, especially in the Midwest thanks to Emma’s Uncle Fred.
But Emma isn’t just a niece of a famous coach. She’s got a passion that backs up her last name. She was there in 2014, on the court, when Fred and Iowa State won the Big 12 tournament. That was when she fell in love with basketball. She’s since talked hoops with Dwight Howard and Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. She can pronounce The Greek Freak’s last name with ease, too.
Basketball and the Hoiberg family is a marriage, which is why when Emma decided she was going to Nebraska over Iowa State, she reached out to the Nebraska basketball office. Despite living in Omaha her entire life — she graduated from Omaha Central — Emma didn’t grow up around Husker hoops. She hardly gets the hype around the Husker football team, if she’s being honest. But she’s a Hoiberg in college. So she almost has to be in the basketball world.
Which is why twice a week the freshman speech pathology major roams the basketball office and helps out as a student manager.
“My cousin, Paige Hoiberg, Fred’s daughter, works in the basketball office at KU, and I was like, ‘Oh that would be so cool if I got to work in Nebraska’s,’ ” Emma said.
She now helps out Sheryl Burbach, assistant director of basketball operations, in the Nebraska office. She helps with invoices, with recruiting travel expenses and scheduling.
“It’s obviously not what I’m going into, but I actually really like it,” Emma said.
Her family likes to say she’s “bringing the Hoiberg roots” back to Lincoln. Emma’s great grandfather, Jerry Bush, was the coach at Nebraska from 1954 to 1962. While in Lincoln, Bush and his wife had three daughters, one of whom, Karen, stayed in Lincoln after Bush was fired. Karen had three sons, all born in Lincoln. One of those boys was Fred. The other, Steve, is Emma’s father.
“He claims to have taught Fred everything he knows,” Emma said.
One time, when Fred was playing at Iowa State, Steve was picked to participate in a shooting challenge at halftime. And the man who claimed to have molded Iowa State’s top player made exactly zero buckets.
“The funniest story,” Emma says.
It gets annoying being related to a famous basketball personality, Emma said, but growing up in football-oriented Nebraska helped. She and her family often drove three hours to Iowa State for Cyclone games and went to the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City every year. They now travel to Chicago to watch Fred’s Bulls over winter breaks.
They all pile into Karen’s maroon minivan and park in the players parking lot behind the United Center.
“So there’s all these Lexus and Bentleys and then just my grandma’s red minivan,” Emma said. “Yeah, we fit in real well.”
Emma will stay on with the program for her four years at UNL. That’s at least the plan for now. She’s already a hit inside the office. She’s already getting heckled by assistant coach Jim Molinari, a sign you’re on his good side. Assistant coach Armon Gates said Emma puts people in their place if she needs to.
“She’s doing an unbelievable job,” Gates said. “She tells me to leave her alone. She’s always, ‘What’s next, Sheryl?’ ”
Emma’s seen good basketball. She was there when Iowa State made it to the Sweet 16 in 2014 and knows a solid team from a bad one.
She’s encouraged early by what she’s seen so far inside the walls of Tim Miles’ program.
“I’m really excited to see what this season brings,” Emma said.