Yanni Hufnagel’s Recruiting Skills Like Watching Chef Work

Putting together ineffective basketball team is like putting together a Michelin star dish. Every single ingredient must have a purpose and it cannot be overplayed. And in the end, it must all come together in harmony to tell a story. That’s why I love keeping tabs on college basketball’s best recruiters.


Yanni Hufnagel has to be you one of college basketball’s best recruiters. The man took an unpaid assistant coaching job at Harvard University to put together one of the school’s best teams ever. In his four years in Cambridge, Yanni Hufnagel’s team went 79-24. America’s oldest university has never won an Ivy League championship in basketball until Yanni Hufnagel assembled the team that shattered the record.


But Yanni Hufnagel’s recruiting of the Ivy League school was akin to a Michelin star chef putting together his dish with the hands tied behind his back. It’s difficult to lure the best talent to Cambridge because Harvard does not issue athletic scholarships. And athletes are under the same academic scrutiny as the average Harvard student. How is it possible that he got such a dominant team together despite these difficulties?


This is what really put them on the map for me. Soon after, CBS Sports would issue the results of a questionnaire given to college coaches. His peers named him the assistant coach most likely to succeed based on his recruiting skills. A few years later, he would help UC Berkeley achieve a top five recruiting class.


Jeff Capel, head coach at Oklahoma, loved having Yanni Hufnagel by his side. He watched as the Jewish assistant coach tenaciously recruited for Oklahoma in his early days in coaching. The legendary Oklahoma coach said that he was not afraid to hear the word no and that he was a great businessman. It doesn’t hurt that everybody really likes him, too.