By Dustin Dow
Enquirer staff writer
Earlier this week, Xavier men's basketball coach Sean Miller visited Rev. James E. Hoff at his Xavier campus residence.
It had become clear to Hoff's inner circle of friends that the former Xavier president was close to dying, his cancer having advanced to its most serious stages over the past month.
So several members of the Xavier athletic department, Miller included, stopped to see the man who has meant so much to them and Xavier athletics since 1991.
Miller and Hoff discussed the men's basketball program, which Miller inherited July 8 after Thad Matta left Xavier for Ohio State.
"Father Hoff took his right hand, and he simulated a jet taking off," Miller said.
"He kept saying, 'We're just going to keep going this way. We're just going to keep going this way.'
"Him saying that, in his condition, that's something I'll never forget as long as I live."
Hoff died at home at age 72 early Friday morning in the presence of friends after a four-month bout with cancer.
His legacy at the university, where he served as president from 1991-2000, is likely to echo Miller's sentiments:
He's a man who made unforgettable contributions to Xavier athletics and the men's basketball program.
Xavier inducted Hoff into its Athletic Hall of Fame in April during the annual men's basketball banquet.
Hoff is credited largely as providing the vision and the push for the construction of Cintas Center, Xavier's $46 million on-campus arena, banquet and dining center that was completed in 2000.
"When I first got there in 1985, you made a right and a left and you were off campus," said Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser, who was an assistant at Xavier from 1985-93 and was head coach at XU from 1994-2001. "Having been there a few weeks ago, it's mind-boggling the physical changes that have happened. Father Hoff was the driving force behind that. I remember being in on those preliminary discussions about how they were going to get Cintas Center done, and he never wavered in his belief that it would happen."
Cintas Center was part of Hoff's philosophy that bringing men's basketball back on campus would enhance the Xavier community.
"He knew athletics were a good part of any university to showcase other parts of the university," said Virginia coach Pete Gillen, who coached at Xavier from 1985-94. "Not many small Catholic schools have a facility like that in the country. Without his determination to get it done, and Bob Kohlhepp's generosity, you wouldn't have Cintas Center."
Kohlhepp, vice chairman of Cintas Corp., was Cintas' chairman of the board when the arena was built.
Beyond the tangible evidence of Cintas Center, Xavier's athletes and coaches will remember Hoff's impact as that of an inspiring figure. He was well-known to athletes in every sport and followed their careers feverishly.
"You can't describe the type of energy he brought when he just walked into the gym," said senior men's basketball player Keith Jackson. "The respect was there from everybody, and we listened to him like he was one of our coaches."
Prosser said, "He was at his best, at his most pastoral, when he would come to practice after a couple losses and tell the team how proud he was of them and how proud the university was of them."
Xavier players and coaches paid close attention last winter when Hoff walked into men's basketball practice unannounced after the team suffered a loss at George Washington, dropping its record to 10-8.
"He was sort of like, 'Hey, I need to talk,' " Miller said. "He huddled the team and coaches at center court and had a message. He talked to the team about five or 10 minutes, and everything seemed OK after that."
Xavier went on to win 16 of its final 18 games and reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time.
"I think that was an extremely poignant moment for us, for him, and a launching point for the future for us," said former XU athletic director Mike Bobinski, who became Xavier's associate vice president for development in April. "It brought us all together, and for him to witness our finest moment, and to have a part in it, it will bear fruit for years to come."
Hoff leaves legacy of inspiration
Xavier's Father Hoff dies
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