LINCOLN — In the lead up to Nebraska's final game of the season, which ended with Fred Hoiberg in the hospital, the NU head coach wasn't keeping up with the latest news.
"I wasn't glued to CNN," Hoiberg told Sports Nightly in his first interview since the season's end. "I was trying to get my team prepared to go out and play and finish off the season the right way."
Had he been watching the news, he would have seen the rapid spread of coronavirus. The morning of Nebraska's final game on March 11, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Conferences began cancelling basketball tournaments that morning, the NCAA decided to play the men's basketball tournament without fans and public officials were banning group gatherings of 50 or more.
With all that going on, Hoiberg coached Nebraska's game against Indiana sick, and without most of that knowledge. When he was led out of the arena and to the hospital after showing signs he was sick, Hoiberg drew heavy criticism online and in the college basketball community for trying to fight through his illness and coach anyway.
"Had I known then what I know now, I definitely would not have gone out there and coached that game," Hoiberg said on Thursday. "Because I did have some of the symptoms they do talk about now. But at the time, what I had heard about it was it was something that if you had tightness in your chest or you had trouble breathing, then those were the signs you might have coronavirus."
Hoiberg did not feel well the morning of March 11, so he did see a doctor and got an X-ray. He was cleared to coach. Hoiberg declined to shake hands with anyone that day, bumping elbows with Indiana head coach Archie Miller before the game.
On the bench as the game wore on, Hoiberg's health deteriorated. He was shown on TV sweating profusely and struggling to keep his head up. Videos of him on the bench went viral just after the news that Rudy Gobert — a Utah Jazz forward — had tested positive for coronavirus. That prompted the NBA to suspend the season. A Big Ten official approached Nebraska's bench at the final media timeout and told Hoiberg to leave.
"I walked out, they took me to a hospital, they did a test which thankfully I tested negative, and thankfully I tested positive for influenza A," Hoiberg said, suggesting he was tested for coronavirus.
He was released from the hospital that night and returned to the team hotel. Hoiberg released a statement the next morning that he would have never done something to jeopardize the health and safety of his team or loved ones.
On Thursday, Hoiberg said he got over his influenza A within a few days.
"Scary time, obviously a very scary time for all of us with all that's going on in the world. I just want to offer my thoughts and prayers to anybody that's been affected by this virus," Hoiberg said.
Since returning to Lincoln, the basketball program has kept a low profile. Hoiberg released a short statement on Tuesday saying he felt confident in the direction of the program. Nebraska finished 7-25 on the season, its worst record in 60 years.
"It was a difficult year. Obviously nobody went into the season thinking we'd win seven basketball games and just two in the league, but it was an important year for laying the foundation," Hoiberg said.
Nebraska has had three departures since the end of the season: Jervay Green, Dachon Burke and Cam Mack. Mack announced he'd be entering the transfer portal on Thursday afternoon.
"He had a terrific year for us, he's a good kid and we hope for the best for him," Hoiberg said.
Nebraska is currently putting together its 2020-2021 roster. NU has two open scholarship spots, and Hoiberg hinted there could be good news with those spots in the coming weeks.
"I'm very excited with what could potentially happen here in a couple weeks with some of the signings that we could potentially add to this team that I think will give us more size, more physicality," Hoiberg said. "There's definitely brighter days ahead."