The Harvard Crimson men’s basketball team had never won the Ivy League title since the conference was established in 1954. That is until Yanni Hufnagel made his appearance as the assistant basketball coach and recruiter in June 2009 under Tommy Amaker. Although a Jewish-American basketball player is quite rare in the NBA, the Jewish Coaches Association for college basketball has approximately 30 Division-I member coaches that include Yanni Hufnagel.
Yanni Hufnagel knew he wanted something to do with basketball ever since he was a kid growing up in Scarsdale, New York. However, he was unable to make the Scarsdale’s high-school basketball team. Yet he stayed part of the sport by commentating on the games on the local public-access TV station. Hufnagel received a bachelor’s degree at Cornell University in Industrial and Labor Relations. He interned with the New Jersey Nets before attending the University of Oklahoma. As a graduate assistant basketball coach for the Oklahoma Sooners, Hufnagel is given a lot of credit for developing the NBA star player Blake Griffin.
After receiving a master’s degree in Adult and Higher Education along with an Emphasis on Intercollegiate Athletics Administration from the University of Oklahoma, Hufnagel moved back east to be an assistant coach and recruiter for Harvard in 2009. By 2011 Hufnagel was picked as the assistant mid-major coach most in all likelihood to “make it big time due to his recruiting ability.” CBS Sports also chose him to be on a “dream team” of assistant coaches before the 2012-13 season. Hufnagel is also known for helping to develop Wesley Saunders and Jeremy Lin at Harvard.
After his four seasons at Harvard, Yanni Hufnagel was poised to work anywhere he wanted as an assistant or a head coach. However, he chose to work during the summer in Israel for the World Maccabiah Games which is often called the “Jewish Olympics.” He chose to lead the youth team of Maccabi USA in July 2013, usually a busy month for college basketball recruiters.