Washington’s first win under Mike Hopkins had drama at every turn. UW rallied from a halftime deficit would come out with a 86-82 victory over Belmont. The comeback was powered by freshman Jaylen Nowell, who scored 32 points, the most by a Husky in school history.
Hopkins was so elated, he was all smiles in a post-game television interview that ended with him hugging the sideline reporter at the end of the segment.
Then came the real surprise. Hopkins returned to the locker room where the entire team awarded him the game ball to celebrate his first win as a collegiate head coach.
“They all signed it and I got in my office and, listen, any time you get your first win, it’s special,” Hopkins told The News Tribune. “For the guys to acknowledge it and do it, was really special. My biggest point to them was I didn’t come here to win one game and you guys didn’t stay with this program to one game.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“But to have that trophy, that’s really, really special.”
A former Syracuse assistant, Hopkins has enjoyed several accolades throughout his career.
He was a member of Jim Boeheim’s staff when the Orange won its first NCAA Tournament in 2003 in addition to reaching the Final Four on four separate occasions.
During the 2015-16 season, he served as Syracuse’s interim coach and went 4-5 that year.
Hopkins was also the court coach for Team USA during the 2012 Olympics.
But even he admitted winning his first game as UW’s coach felt different.
“I’ve learned from one of the greatest coaches of all time and I have my moments at home with my family or with the guys when they first gave me the ball,” Hopkins said. “I know how hard this is. Every day its a grind. What you don’t want is for guys to lose it. My job is to raise the temperature or lighten the temperature.
“I’d lie to you if I said this wasn’t special. I’m a crier. I get emotional. I coach because I love and I want to do something special for the people who depend on us.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark