University of Washington

Intense style with a human touch has made Washington’s Mike Hopkins the coach he is today

There’s a picture from Mike Hopkins’ playing days at Syracuse that is revealing.

He has an open wound above his right eyebrow with streams of blood gushing down the side of his face. Hands on his hips, Hopkins looks deep in thought as if he’s pondering the next series of plays.

Exchange a Syracuse jersey for a navy suit and it’s still the approach Hopkins carries as Washington’s first-year basketball coach.

“When the player knows you’re in the battle with him it says that you’re willing to work harder than they do,” Hopkins said. “It sets the standard for how hard, how physical and how intense you have to bring it as a professional.”

Over the years, he’s taken charges from 6-foot-11 centers in practices and still coached on the sidelines in a neck brace after breaking the second cervical vertebra in his spine while body surfing on a family vacation.

There’s jammed fingers and bruised ribs. During his first week at UW, one of Hopkins’ players accidentally broke his nose doing a drill.

“He jumped in a drill and wanted the guys to go hard,” Huskies assistant Will Conroy said. “He said, ‘Don’t take it easy. Go hard.’ One of the guys went down the lane and broke his nose.

“You’d think he’d would leave the drill but he continued with practice. You see him the next day, he has two black eyes.”

As a player, Hopkins built a reputation around hard work, toughness and a near limitless supply of energy.

He never backed down when playing against All-Americans and didn’t care if he looked stylish while doing it.

“At Syracuse, he was known to be this scrappy player who would dive for the ball,” said Hopkins’ wife, Trish, who is also a Syracuse graduate. “He doesn’t care. Bodily injury does not bother him.”

hopkins bleed

The same goes for when he was an assistant at Syracuse under legendary coach Jim Boeheim.

Boeheim said Hopkins has always been interactive as a coach. At first the 6-5 Hopkins would work with the guards but over time, he felt it was necessary to take a charge from a center who was at least five inches taller and 40 to 50 pounds heaver.

“I’ve tried to get him to cut back on that a little bit,” Boeheim said of Hopkins’ physical approach to coaching. “His enthusiasm for the game is right there. I’ve had some great assistants starting with Rick Pitino and a whole bunch of other guys.

“Mike is as good as any assistant I’ve had.”

Boeheim knew how Hopkins was as a player and figured it only made sense he’d be the same way as an assistant coach.

Although for anyone new, watching a grown man willingly accept physical punishment from one of his players could be a bit jarring.

So what do members of Hopkins’ staff at UW think about his hands on style?

“Me personally? I’m down for that,” said Conroy, who played at UW from 2001 through 2005. “Because in coaching you can start following the path or the trail of just barking out orders and not getting in the trenches with the guys.

“He gets in the trenches with the guys.”

RELATED: Who is Mike Hopkins? A driven, hard-worker hellbent on returning UW to glory

Hopkins’ UW tenure is only two games old. Still, there are clues as to how the 48-year-old will lead this program.

The intensity is obvious. Conroy said Hopkins feels that about the game and the players.

“I think he cares for the players,” Conroy said. “We’re in this business of coaching. You can look at it as a business and the personal relationships won’t really mean as much to you.

“I think he really cares genuinely for the kid. I think that’s big.”

Conroy said Hopkins is working to establish a culture but is doing it in a way everyone can get behind.

He said Hopkins has not tried to force anything and “respects” what previous longtime coach Lorenzo Romar built.

Conroy, who was appointed the program’s caretaker after Romar left, said Hopkins has shown a humility in recognizing what UW has achieved while also trying to develop his vision going forward.

“It’s a testament to the kind of man he is,” Conroy said. “He’s thoughtful. He cares and does his research. He understands. For me being here, seeing him come in, it’s a delicate situation.

“I couldn’t be more happy ... I think he’s that phenomenal.”

Conroy added one of Hopkins’ strongest facets was how he was able to get players to buy in and stay with the program.

UW went through a tumultuous stretch after it let go of Romar. The Huskies lost the No. 1 player in the nation in small forward Michael Porter Jr. to Missouri.

The Huskies also lost four-star shooting guard Daejon Davis to Stanford, watched three-star point Blake Harris also leave for Missouri and three-star forward Mamoudou Diarra head to Cincinnati.

It left Jaylen Nowell, who starred at Garfield, as the team’s high-profile recruit from its once promising class.

“I just wanted to take the time to hear him out on what he was going to do,” Nowell said of Hopkins. “Coming in as a coach, getting to meet him for the first time, I saw that he had a lot of intensity and a lot of the same intensity that I have playing as well.

“When he showed me that, it made me very comfortable with my decision.”

Nowell, a former four-star prospect, opened the season with 32 points in a 86-82 win over Belmont.

It was the most points scored by a UW player making their debut and it was the highest total ever recorded for a Husky to start a season.

boeheim and hopkins

Hopkins’ personal yet enthusiastic touch is how he managed to keep several UW players from transferring after last season.

And if that’s somehow not enough, know it was certainly plenty for Boeheim and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Boeheim and Krzyzewski teamed up to coach the United States’ men’s national basketball team back in 2006. Krzyzewski said the team needed court coaches and personnel behind the scenes. Hopkins was part of the staff.

“What I love about him is players love to be taught by him,” Krzyzewski said of Hopkins. “He doesn’t need a spotlight on him ... All the U.S. players loved him. His prep for the team we were going to play was exquisite.”

Hopkins, according to his official UW bio, has been involved with Team USA Basketball as a court coach for nine different staffs.

It’s why Hopkins is one of the few coaches, assistant or head, who can say he has both a national championship and an Olympic gold medal.

“From LeBron to Kobe to Kevin Durant, they love Mike and he was there with them every day,” Boeheim said. “Kobe doesn’t like that many people, either. He’s tried to help Mike several times in terms of Mike’s future, Kobe has. That’s not usual.”

Boeheim, who has known Hopkins since he was a teenager, said his former pupil was in charge of the team’s scouting efforts for many years.

For mentors, Boeheim is clearly the most influential. Besides Krzyzewski, Hopkins has also worked with Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, Minnesota Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau and former NBA coach Monty Williams, who is the San Antonio Spurs’ vice president of basketball operations.

Defense is Hopkins’ calling card. He’s a tactician of the famed Syracuse zone. But he’s well versed in all aspects of the game, Boeheim said.

“He’s worked with really good man-to-man coaches,” Boeheim said. “We decided every year if we would play man or press and the press got us to the Final Four two years ago.

“We used both and I think Mike will be able to use both.”

Hopkins also has a plan for offense. His scheme is to have four players on the perimeter and one in the paint, which was similar to what was done at Syracuse.

“The difference (between Syracuse and UW) with me is, control the tempo,” Hopkins said. “I don’t want people taking time off the clock. I want to be able to dictate that.”

Boeheim said Hopkins has likely gone through a much broader range of experiences than most assistants in the collegiate game. Boeheim said everything Hopkins has done has been in preparation to having his own program.

That program could have been Syracuse. The school announced in 2015 that Hopkins would become coach after the 2017-18 season once Boeheim, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and College Basketball Hall of Fame, retired.

However, once the UW job became available Hopkins made the decision to head to Seattle.

“He’s built himself to the point where he was ready,” Boeheim said. “I think he wanted to start his own program. ... It was a great choice and a smart choice.”

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark

Editor’s note

This is the second installment of a three-part series the News Tribune is reporting about Washington’s newest men’s basketball coach, Mike Hopkins. Read the first installment here.

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