The quick scouting report on new Washington men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins stresses his strengths as a recruiter.
Well, no time like the present coach. And the challenge he’s facing now, to get the Huskies back on their feet, could end up defining his career.
If Hopkins seemed in a hurry, it was because he had to try to salvage a historic recruiting class that seemed ready to disperse to the four winds after the firing of previous coach Lorenzo Romar.
So, Hopkins on Wednesday started a new job in such unstable circumstances that if he can somehow piece it together and rally to a respectable first season, it will qualify as a huge success.
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His press conference was mostly predictable and met current standards for the number of times he stressed grit and teamwork and passion and vision.
Like every other new coach’s press conference, he cited it as a dream come true.
It should be. He’s come to a world-class university in a great city. It’s just not where he thought it was going to be (after 22 seasons as an assistant at Syracuse).
And he’s not only taking over a program from a much-beloved and very sympathetic coach who had fallen on hard competitive times.
He’s also facing the likelihood of losing the best recruiting class in school history.
National prep player of the year, Michael Porter Jr. of Nathan Hale, announced he has withdrawn his national letter of intent with Washington. Of course, he’ll head to Missouri with his father, the former UW assistant.
If Hopkins is really a sensational recruiter, he’ll talk the kid into staying.
Yes, that’s unrealistic, but there are others who can upgrade the roster who still might be nailed down.
And here’s where Hopkins convinced me he might be on to something that will make a long-range difference.
“We want people who want to be here, who have two feet in,” he said. And later added: “We don’t recruit for ranking, we recruit for fit.”
So, while it’s likely Porter is in the wind, he probably was a one-year Husky anyway. And just as the marvelous Markelle Fultz couldn’t make UW a winner this year, Porter wasn’t going to be the sole answer, either.
Another comment Hopkins made said something about his basketball DNA. He cited the influence of Tim Grgurich.
A generation of Sonics fans will recall Grgurich as George Karl’s assistant during the 1990s. Grgurich was tough and no-nonsense, and understood and loved basketball like few others. If Hopkins carries many of Grgurich’s qualities, he’s going to be terrific at his job.
Hopkins got pretty worked up at times, raising his voice as if he wanted us all to go out and play 40 minutes against Arizona.
His reputation is as a hands-on coach, too, who not only will scrimmage with his players, but dive on the floor after a loose ball at times. That kind of energy leaves no wiggle room for players to decline the same level of hustle.
Maybe that’s not important as other coaching duties. But his outlook on trying to win games in a deep and talented conference was this: “You gotta beat ’em by being tougher … and by being tougher together.”
Hopkins seemed sincere when he cited his friendship and admiration for Romar, saying he had “the highest character of anybody I’ve ever met.”
Some students and fans were in the stands, along with some players and staffers. I turned back one time when Hopkins was explaining his philosophy, and Huskies football coach Chris Petersen was nodding his head in agreement.
That’s a pretty good validation.
Hopkins’ best recruiting job so far might have been with hold-over assistant Will Conroy, a former UW player.
“Every time I’ve talked to him, he’s had me ready to come through the phone line and play basketball,” Conroy said.
If Hopkins can have the same effect on some talented recruits, he’ll be off to a great start.