As the headline claims, here is every word spoken today by Huskies athletic director Jen Cohen and new men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins during an introductory press conference at Hec Edmundson Pavilion.
JEN COHEN OPENING STATEMENT
“Thank you. Love you. Go Dawgs. So first of all thank you so much for being here this afternoon to welcome Coach Hopkins and his wife Tric and his beautiful family that you’re going to get to meet here soon into our Husky family.
“You know we’ve seen some pretty special moments in this historic arena. We’ve seen some remarkable teams. We’ve seen some very special players. We’ve seen some epic wins. And today is another one of those special moments. Today is our opportunity to commit ourselves and re-energize ourselves around a new era of Husky basketball led by Coach Hopkins.
“When we embarked on our search for a new men’s basketball coach, we had a specific profile in mind. And we had four key characteristics that we were looking for in our new leader.
“The first was credentials. We were looking for an experienced coach. And we were looking for a coach that had been part of a championship program and a part of championship teams.
“The other thing that we were looking for is a coach that had a passion and vision that was specific to the University of Washington. We were looking for somebody that understood how special this place was and understood the potential of this place and had a plan and a vision for success here. And most important a coach that saw this as a destination.
“We were also realizing that we needed to find somebody that had a builder mentality. We have some work to do in this program so we needed to find a guy that can roll up his sleeves and get dirty. That was gritty and scrappy. Somebody that knew how to stay in the process all the time so that we can build the championship culture that we all expect.
“And finally and this is critically important to the University of Washington, we were looking for somebody that was aligned with our values. Our university values. Our athletic department values. The values of this city. The values of this community. The thing I’ve learned in business over all this time is there’s no guarantee in any hire that you make, but the best shot that you have at success is hiring somebody that’s a cultural fit for your organization. And so when we met Coach Hopkins, it didn't take long for us to realize that he embodied everything that we were looking for in our next head coach. And there was something just extremely special about him.
“I’d just like to share a few observations and the things that we saw and the reason why we think he’s a perfect fit here. The first is we were blown away by his coaching experiences. This is a guy that’s been a champion everywhere that he has been. He was champion as a high school student-athlete. He was a champion as a student-athlete in college. Two decades of championship experiences and culture building at Syracuse. Multiple championships and medals as a coach with USA Basketball. So he knows. He knows what that culture looks like. He knows what it takes to build it. Unbelievable pedigree and the amount of respect that this man has in the basketball community from his peers, from student-athletes that have played with him, from other players and NBA players that have played from him as well. So what we know about Coach Hopkins is he knows how to compete at the highest levels. And he knows how to win.
“The other thing and you’ll see this when he gets up and I smile because he’s awesome and I can’t wait for you to meet him – is that he oozes with passion for this place, for this opportunity. He’s got northwest roots. He’s got west coast ties. He sees the unlimited potential of this place. And he has an unbelievable plan for it and that was one of the things that really stood out about Coach Hopkins when we talked with him. Is that he had a plan and he had a vision and it was a road map for success here at the University of Washington. Love, love, love this guy’s mentality. He’s gritty. He’s tough. He’s got energy. He’s got more energy. I’m warning you now, you need coffee every time you talk to this guy. He’s remarkable in that regard. What you can tell around a guy like this and this is so important is, he is not going to rest until we are great here. And then when we’re great here, he’s still is not going to rest. And that’s what this program needs and that’s what this program deserves. And finally there’s no other way I can describe this, he just fit. What he’s all about. What he stands for. What matters to him. How he wants to approach the work. The culture that he wants to build. Just so aligned with the UW and our community. We’re getting a guy that’s going to demand excellence from himself. He’s going to demand excellence from all of us that are around him. We’re getting a guy that really wants to teach and mentor and develop student-athletes on and off the court, which is what this program is all about. We’re getting a guy that will do it the right way by the rules and with integrity and character at all times. And we’re getting a guy that really wants to contribute to our community and to our city and to our university well beyond the court. So I am so happy and pleased for you all to meet our men’s basketball coach at the University of Washington. Please join me and welcoming Coach Mike Hopkins.”
MIKE HOPKINS OPENING STATEMENT
“Thank you. Thank you very much. Oh boy, boy. Pretty incredible. First of all I’d like to thank President Cauce and Athletic Director Jennifer Cohen for this incredible opportunity. I feel blessed, humbled and honored to be the head Men’s Basketball Coach at the University of Washington, I can tell you that. This is a dream come true for me and my family. And this dream has been a long journey, and I want to thank some people that made this journey come true for me and make it happen.
“First starts with my family. My daughter Ella, raise your hand. Grant, raise your hand. My oldest son Griff and my wife Tricia. They’ve been supportive in a business, as a lot of coaches here know, it takes a lot, and a lot of commitment on their part. They are part of this team as well. I’ve been incredibly lucky to have some incredible mentors in the coaching profession. I’d like to start by thanking my high school coach, Gary McKnight, who, as a young kid, I dreamt of being a great player. He was a guy that saw me at this tournament, and I’m not going to say that he recruited me, because that’s not right, but at the time I went to Mater Dei High School, which is about 30 minutes from where I grew up. He just believed in me and he made me a man and made my dreams come true as a player and really helped me develop.
“Coach Tim Grgurich was an assistant back here in Seattle. I used to spend a lot of time back here in ’96 and ’97 in the glory years of the Supersonics. He taught me the power of helping people, developing people. He just taught me so much and made me love coaching.
“Thirdly, Coach K (Mike Krzyzewski). (He) brought me on the USA Basketball experience the last eight years. Our family has sacrificed so I could be a part of the world championships and Olympic teams. The commitment is probably 45-50 days every summer, but he’s been an incredible mentor, the standard of excellence and being part of the build and the strategy of building Team USA into the greatest team in the world.
“And lastly, my mentor, friend and father-figure, Jim Boeheim. He was a guy who gave a guy a shot. He was a guy who gave a guy an opportunity when a lot of people didn’t, and I did everything in my power to make that opportunity a dream and a reality, and I want to thank him for that opportunity.
“A couple of years ago my good friend of mine and my agent Bret Just, we finalized a contract at Syracuse to replace Jim Boeheim as the next head coach. The great thing about Bret is, he’s such a great people person and he understands the game because he had coached. We had talked about dreams. You sit there and you talk about gosh, you’re going to go to Syracuse and it’s an incredible opportunity to replace a legend and to be there. I thought, I’m there to protect a legacy, to protect something I really care about. I played there, I’m an alum. I wanted to protect something.
“Then we started talking, and he said, “Mike, let me ask you a question. If another school asked if you were interested, what should I say?” I said, “You know, I’ve always talked with people. I’ll always listen, because the building concept has always been a passion of mine as well. But you have to remember something about me: if there’s something that I like, I stay with it. And I stayed at Syracuse a long time because I believed in it. So there was going to have to be a special criteria, from the people…I always say ‘people, potential, and place’. Those are the three factors for me.
“Obviously a place is where I could live forever. The potential would be where you could win a national championship. And the people that I would work for, you felt like you were a team. You felt like it was a family. That’s what I had at Syracuse. It was the family environment.
“So, a week ago - I don’t know, these days have gone by so fast - I get a call from Bret and he says, “Mike, let me ask you a question. What do you think of the University of Washington?” I kind of perked up a little bit. I’m a west coast guy at heart. Nobody really knows that. I’m like, “Okay, my Dad grew up about 10 miles away from here.” One of the greatest cities in the world, great place to raise your family, I had incredible childhood memories growing up here. My Mom and Dad were born here. We used to vacation at Lake Chelan growing up. And I spent a lot of time here with my mentor, Coach Grgurich and the Supersonics, learning and working with him. So that box was checked. Check.
“Then I went to potential. You look at the conference, the Pac-12 Conference is one of the best conferences in the world. If you can compete at the highest level of the Pac-12 Conference, you have a chance to win a national championship. You’re seeing it going on right now in college basketball with the teams from this conference in the Sweet Sixteen. When I was here and saw the basketball fans here and not having a pro team, I thought was very intriguing. Six years ago they won the Pac-12 conference and they’ve been in multiple Sweet Sixteens. I started looking back at the history and the deep tradition, what coach Romar brought here, leading this program to great heights a few years back, not only as a coach but as a player. There we go, check two. It was over, two boxes checked.
“And then number three, the people. I had an opportunity when I spoke to Jen - again, I didn’t know what to expect - and from the first time I spoke to her it was kind of like wow. The connection was there, the vision she has for the program, the culture that she wanted to create, the potential she thought this school has and can be - and the commitment she’s going to make to make that happen? You look at the football program, you look at the women’s basketball program, you look at the volleyball program, golf program last year won the national championship…so much great success here. I just sat there and spoke to her and talked about her family, my family. She talked about the values and it just matched. And that box was checked.
“And one of the biggest things in this whole process - and I really believe this - the key to success is that values have to align. They have to align. It’s critical to the success of anything you do.
“So that night it was, checked three boxes. And then it was kind of crazy, because all I did was…I’m a visualizer. I meditate. I do all those things. But I sat there and I couldn’t sleep. My wife would be, “What’s wrong? You’re up.” I was going through my mind I’m visualizing. I’m visualizing whatever it may be and this place just booming with energy. This place rocking, being one of the best places to play, the hardest places to play, in the country. I started dreaming about winning a Pac-12 Championship and what that would feel like. I’ve held the golden trophy when we won the national championship and I know what that feels like. I’m visualizing that. It was just over, and over, and over.
“One of the great things about Syracuse, and I see it here - I’ve done a ton of research - there’s nothing greater when you do something great for a city that deserves it and it’s right in your backyard. You have personal pride, you have ownership. There’s collective responsibility. All these things play a major part in the success of a program, and I felt like I would have that here.
“That night, got up in the morning and I just had goosebumps visualizing about this opportunity and the possibilities were, I thought, endless. What if? What could this be? Why not? Why not?
“The last message here is, nothing in life that’s great is easy. This is not going to be easy, but it can be done. I’ve seen it. I’ve been a part of it. It’s going to take a collective effort. I talked to some of the ex-NBA players, I’ve met some of the local players, I’ve talked on the phone, I’ve talked to…geez, I had Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul, had Jamal Crawford the other night at the Clippers game. It takes everybody. It takes the fan base, it takes the alumni to be a part of a winning program.
“I’m telling you now, you’ve got to trust me. I wouldn’t be here, sitting in this seat, if I didn’t feel I could make it happen.”
(How much did next year play into it and what changed if anything?) “I said it I thought in my opening statement -- there had to be a criteria. My dream in life was to be the best coach in the world. Didn’t matter if it was Syracuse. The hardest thing about Syracuse was I was so close, so tied into the community with the people, the fans, the fan base. When all the boxes were checked in this one, I was thinking let’s bring that there. It’s already got a great tradition, let’s bring a winning program. Let’s use some of the same strategies that we did, let’s do those types of things and I just think it’s the place that I want to be. When I met Jennifer and we talked about working together and being a team. I saw the talent. I think coach Romar recruited great, they’ve got a tremendous amount of talent. It wasn’t necessarily, ‘you’ve got one year left there.’ I’ve never lived my life like that. I’ve always lived my life trying to get better every day that I get up. I try to learn. I read. I just try to get better. This felt right. I can’t explain it. Are you married? Do you remember the time that you met your wife? It’s very important for me and for everybody here to understand that I wanted to go someplace I felt like I could be at forever and I could build something that everybody had a lot, a lot of pride for. That’s why I came here.”
(Zone or Man?) “The zone is one of the greatest weapons in college basketball. Obviously this year we didn’t make the tournament but whenever you made the tournament the brackets would come out and say ‘Oh, who is in Syracuse’s bracket.’ It’s like the old Princeton offense. The zone is a weapon. IT’s an incredible weapons and one that has won a lot of games for Syracuse. But I believe in controlling tempo. I believe if a team plays fast we can slow you down, if they play slow we can speed you up. I think the athletes we have here and the talent we have in our backyard the options are limitless. But I can tell you the zone will be utilized, it’s an heck of a weapon. It will be an unpredictable attack. I like to be unpredictable and sometimes the zone can be predictable.”
(Staff?) “I got to tell you we hired one of the best, I’ve been blown away by Will Conroy, who was our first hire. I’ve talked, this is going to be a guesstimate but I’m going to go between 25-30 people, that I’ve talked to (and) been around who I really, really respect in the business, even NBA scouts that came here to watch certain players, they watch the bench, they watch what is going on, a lot of knowledge and I didn’t have one person ever say one kind of ‘well, I don’t’ think this.’ It was a home run and I feel so fortunate and lucky. I had the chance -- obviously we’ve been spending a lot of time the last couple of days on the phone going back and forth sharing ideas and he’s knowledgeable and hardworking and I’m going to tell you something. I’ve never met somebody with more school loyalty, city loyalty than Will Conroy. I went through the offices today and went by Will’s office and it just defined him and kind of gave me goosebumps. It was a picture of him as a player and he’s ripping his jersey over to the side and you know how a picture says a thousand words? It said about a million words about who he is as a person, what his character is, how much he loves his school and what he’s going ot do moving forward and I feel so fortunate and lucky that he believed enough in me to join the staff.”
(How does grittiness translate to being a head coach?) “Well I think the most important thing is you have to play with a chip on your shoulder. When I talk to Will and we talk about the great teams where and any team I’ve been around it’s grit. They play with a chip on their shoulder. Listen, I was an underdog. When I went to Mater Dei I was the sixth best freshman and ended up playing and getting a scholarship to Syracuse. When I went to Syracuse it was a gift. They were giving me a Christmas gift. I wasn’t probably good enough but they gave me an opportunity and said I would never play and I ended up playing and being a team captain. Getting into coaching I’ve always had to fight for everything I’ve had. That’s why when I spoke to Will and did my research in regards to Will, it just aligned and that’s how I want to coach, that’s how I want the team to play, that’s what I want the identity to be. It’s blue collar. It’s compete. And when you want to go out and you want to beat the likes of UCLA and Arizona and Oregon and the teams right now at the top you’ve got to beat them by being tougher and by being tougher together. And that’s what we’re going to bring.”
(Talk to Romar; Team? And how much of recruiting class will be able to get) “I had reached out to coach Romar. I’m not going to tell you what we talked about but I have so much respect for coach Romar. I knew him from way back in Southern California when he was at UCLA and the highest character of anybody I’ve ever met, a great basketball mind and a great person. I just wanted him to know that I’m honored to have this position and I’m going to do everything I can to make him proud of the university of Washington men’s basketball program. He was very gracious and great. The recruiting, we’re working at it. These guys we’ve spoken on the phone multiple times to the team, to the recruits. You know poachers are out but we’re doing our fight. Will, by the way, has been incredible. We haven’t’ slept in a couple of days. We’re going to do our best job to keep these guys intact but I’ll tell you one thing we want people that want to be here. We want people that have two feet in and in terms of what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to build. That’s the most important thing.”
(Did it seem like Boeheim would be a Syracuse forever?) “No. The plan was intact. Everything was going to be as stated multiple times. I think the greatest thing about coach was having that conversation with him and him just being proud and excited. Obviously he was disappointed but when I talked to him about my visions and why. It’s like anything. IT’s like when I try and have my sons make decisions on anything, it’s like ‘OK, I’ll let you make the decision but you have to tell me why. Tell me why you made that decision.’ When I spoke about the opportunity and the program, he was like ‘wow, wow.’ He did a little bit differently. ‘wow, wow, oh yeah.’ We were all good.”
(On his experience as Syracuse’s interim coach for 9 games) “The greatest thing about that experience was it was a unique experience. Not too many people have had to go through it. But the greatest thing I learned was what I need. I felt like when I went in there it was very clear what we were going to do – I shared with Jennifer – it was like a wrist band of What Would Jesus Do, but “What Would Boeheim Do?” in those situations. We competed. The kids played hard. And I just learned a lot. I learned about me. I can’t be Jim Boeheim. I’m not going to be Coach K. I’m going to be Mike Hopkins, and I’m excited about that. Another thing that really got me excited, and I haven’t shared this with anybody … two guys when I started with USA basketball was Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski. We had both been very loyal to our programs. Seeing Wojo take the Marquette job and lead them into the NCAA tournament this year in Year 2 or Year 3, seeing my buddy Chris Collins take a school that’s never been to the NCAA tournament in the history of the school. When he went there and people are saying there’s no way. History! And he went and not only did they go, they changed the culture, he won a game and Northwestern is back on the map. To be honest with you, when I was watching them, I was a little envious, because it was his. It was his own. The team that he brought in, the team that he coached. Like I said earlier, it’s not going to be easy. Nothing’s easy. But I tell you one thing – we’re going to work tooth and nail and do everything we can to make this a championship level program.”
(On leaving Syracuse to build his own legacy) “I think this, you know what, listen. The one thing you need to know about me that’s very clear, this isn’t about Mike Hopkins, This is about the University of Washington. This is about us. This is about our team. This is bigger than me. This is about us. And that’s what I’m excited about more than anything. Jen and I talked a lot about that team, working together, synergy, same values. That’s what excites me. So listen, I’ve coached and played and I think there’s only one year we weren’t in the postseason and that’s one of the years we were on probation. So my DNA and our DNA is winning. You’re around Will Conroy, it takes about two seconds to understand that he’s 1,000 percent winner. And putting that staff together, we’re going to put together a dream team, I can tell you that, because that’s what it takes. It takes a group of people, like-minded, same values, same energy drive, all moving in the same direction, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
(Do you plan to meet with the Porter family?) “There’s no question. Like I said before, it’s been like a lightning flash that’s been coming so fast. Getting our family out here, trying to find a place to live for those three children over there … We’ve reached out to a lot of people but it’s hard because each phone call is about 45, 50 minutes from parents to … we’re definitely going to be sitting down and meeting with the Porter family very soon, even today.”
(On keeping top Seattle talent home to play at UW) “That’s the plan. I think part of this is you’ve got to go out there and relationships and trust built and it takes time. But I can tell you one thing, we’ll go out there and do our best job to put a product out there that you will be proud of. There’s not too many places in the country that has more talent here in the backyard, and you can’t get them all. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned through the success we’ve had in the past is … you don’t recruit for ranking. You recruit for fit. You recruit for belief. I’ll tell you a story, this is a Syracuse story, and Mike Waters who is here knows this story very, very well. Back in Syracuse, we were recruiting a kid named Julius Hodge. He was a top-5 player in the country. Everybody was like, oh my gosh. The Orange nation, Julius Hodge is going to save the program, we need him, the golf clubs, the Internet, everything, Julius Hodge, Julius Hodge, Julius Hodge. And we had one scholarship left. We had a class of five, and there was this skinny kid, about 6-9, that was rated about 100th in the country, named Hakim Warrick. And Hakim was from Philadelphia and was being recruited by St. Bonaventure and Providence, and I was telling Hakim, they’re like, ‘coach, we really want to come.’ And I had to go back and tell him – this is a crazy story – I said, ‘Hakim, listen, we’ve got to wait two weeks. We’ve invested a lot of time recruiting Julius Hodge, and if you want to come to Syracuse, you’re going to have to wait and see what he does. And if he decides to come to Syracuse, we don’t have a scholarship. I’m sorry.’ Hakim said no, he wants to wait. His mother would call me every day, ‘Coach Hop, Coach Hop, I’ve been praying, I’ve been praying, that (Hodge) goes somewhere else.’ Well, all of a sudden Julius Hodge decides to go to North Carolina State. And the fanbase was devastated. It was like an uppercut hook. Just took ‘em out. And you know, because all the coaches out there, you know with recruiting, sometimes you get seduced into the rankings, you get seduced into all the other stuff, and Hakim Warrick ended up coming to Syracuse, he was a two-time All-American, he won a national championship and played in the NBA for about 10 years. There’s no real science in recruiting. You’ve got to get the right fit. Values have to align. Just like what you see up here, guys. That’s what it takes to be successful.”
(Any reservations about Hopkins not being a head coach before?) “Not at all. His experience and his resume was actually one of the things that really drew us to him. Also thought he had a unique experience as a coach in waiting. Mike had a lot of responsibilities at Syracuse that looked more like a head coach, and then you combine that with all of the experiences he had with USA Basketball. That being said, he’s going to have a learning curve. We all have learning curves with leadership, right? I do every day. We all do every day. What I know is, he’s hungry. And I love that. Huskies like people that are hungry. Every great head coach was a great assistant once, and I believe this guy’s going to be a great head coach.”
(On the logistics of the search and hire process) “Big picture, when it comes to searches, hiring head coaches around here is the most important thing that we do. Our head coaches are our lifeblood. They’re kind of the heart and soul of this place. So as an AD, we always have to be prepared. So when we took over, when we were named in this position last May, as it relates to basketball, we spent a lot of time digging into what was going on within our own program, but also really developing and utilizing our network to figure out what was happening within all of college basketball. We studied other programs, we looked at the strengths and weaknesses of those programs. We started talking with people that just knew a lot about the sport and what were some of the trends, and through that process, we also learned a lot about coaches, and who was out there and who was great and who should we be thinking about if we were in the position to have to go through a search? So that whole process was ongoing and really always is, and it helped me and helped our team develop a profile, and it helped us develop a shortlist. And that was really important, because when we made the decision to let Coach Romar go, we hit the ground running. And these searches, you have to have that diligence. You have to have that vetting. You have to be prepared. But you have to be able to be swift, especially in men’s basketball searches. So we were ready to go and went quickly. As far as the details go on the search, one of the things that we’re really proud of here is that we run a search as confidential. So I’m not going to get into details about who we talked to and when we talked to them or any of that, because I want to honor that. It’s something we’re actually really proud of. People respect us, other coaches respect us because of it. What I will tell you is there was a lot of interest in the job, there was a strong candidate list and we got the guy we wanted.”