University of Washington

Mike Hopkins has a vision for UW basketball. This is what it looks like.

Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen, left, said new basketball coach Mike Hopkins “checked every box and then some. He impressed me right away.”
Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen, left, said new basketball coach Mike Hopkins “checked every box and then some. He impressed me right away.” AP

Mike Hopkins already has the formula for building Washington into a college basketball power.

Hopkins and his assistants will tap into the local talent throughout the Seattle-Tacoma metro area, while also recruiting nationally. They’ll find guys who fit UW’s system and also understand that nothing comes easy.

Fans will gradually start taking ownership back in Huskies basketball. The Dawg Pack will bark while purple-and-gold clad fans rush through the entrances to fill the Alaska Airlines Arena.

“It’s like a rake and we’re all in it,” Hopkins said. “It’s not a Mike Hopkins’ culture. It’s a University of Washington culture. When everybody is in that same direction, that’s when it’s going to be good.”

Hopkins can build up the culture. He can foster an atmosphere that excites fans. But if he doesn’t recruit – and get – talent, it won’t matter.

That shouldn’t be a problem if you believe Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski.

***

Getting people to buy into a specific philosophy is what made Hopkins a dynamic recruiter at Syracuse.

Boeheim, the long-time Orange coach who’s know Hopkins since his prep days, said Hopkins recruited NBA-caliber players like Dion Waiters and Hakim Warrick.

Boeheim credited Hopkins for recruiting three of the Orange’s starting five players when they won the NCAA Tournament in 2003.

“We did not do it with frills here and we were recruiting good players,” Boeheim said. “We recruited some McDonald’s All-Americans but they’re not always the answer. It’s about getting good players who will work hard.

“Mike will do that and he’ll get good players to come to Washington and they will be successful.”

Krzyzewski, the legendary Duke coach, said what makes Hopkins a strong recruiter is his personality.

He said any coach who gets to know Hopkins and his family is “going to love him.” Krzyzewski, who recently won his 1,000 game coaching Duke, said Hopkins is a believable, honest person.

“I think a recruit would have to look really hard at what he has to offer,” Krzyzewski said. “The fact he’s starting to build something, to be there on the ground level. He’s not trying to build a team. He’s trying to build a program.

“It’s what Washington deserves and I think Mike can do that.”

Another person who can speak to Hopkins’ ability as a recruiter is ESPN analyst Seth Greenberg.

Greenberg and Hopkins have quite a history. Hopkins said when he was a high school player at Mater Dei, Greenberg recruited him when he was an assistant at Long Beach State.

Their paths did cross at times once Hopkins became an assistant. Greenberg said when he was the head coach at Virginia Tech, they were recruiting Jerami Grant.

Grant was a four-star power forward who Rivals evaluated as one of the Top 100 players in the nation back in 2012.

Virginia Tech lost out on Grant, who would sign with Syracuse.

“It was a good recruitment, a clean recruitment. It was recruitment without negative recruiting,” Greenberg said. “Talking about someone else’s program is a sign of weakness, not strength.”

***

Everybody who knows UW basketball or Hopkins believes the former longtime Syracuse assistant can return the program to prominence.

This would be a welcomed respite for a program that has the 18th most wins with 1,751 all-time victories. It sounds even better considering UW has failed to reach the NCAA Tournament since 2011.

They also know fans will have to be patient.

“This isn’t just him on his own. We’re going to grow together, build together,” Huskies athletic director Jennifer Cohen said. “Day-by-day, it’s the type of experience and strategy around these areas and it’s going to be an on-going process.

“The expectation is to stick with his plan and have the plan fit.”

Cohen, a Tacoma native, said UW’s administration had four requirements for its next coach after the program cut ties with Lorenzo Romar.

The first was finding someone who knew and experienced what a championship program felt like.

The second was getting a coach who cared about developing student-athletes while understanding the community they served.

The third was having someone who viewed UW as a destination and could also see the potential.

The fourth was to find someone who knew the value of hard work.

“We’ve had a lot of success but this program needed work,” Cohen said. “We’re coming off a two-win, Pac-12 season. We wanted someone who knew how to grind and build.

“(Hopkins) checked every box and then some. He impressed me right away.”

She wasn’t alone.

Will Conroy knows UW basketball better than most. A former player, he returned to his alma mater where he’s been an assistant for three seasons.

He’s stayed on staff and spoke highly of how Hopkins has assimilated himself within the program. Conroy recalled how Hopkins hadn’t even signed his contract but was reaching out to every UW alum who was playing in the NBA.

The message? Hopkins wanted those players to know UW is still their program and it will always be their home.

“When I first met him, he was like, ‘I’ve talked to Quincy Pondexter already, I’ve talked to this guy,’ ” Conroy said. “He’s already reached out to him. That’s how mindful he is of our alumni.

“He gets it all the way around.”

Perhaps a greater testament than Conroy’s was that of former Husky star center Spencer Hawes.

The Seattle native and former first-round pick is currently a free agent. He’s back in the area and was working out before a UW practice.

It proved what Hopkins said was true. Any former player who wants to come back, can.

“When our guys leave here, they love it, so they always speak high of it,” Conroy said of UW’s alums who are in the NBA. “I think coach did a whale of a job touching base with most of those guys before he ever met them.”

****

UW, based off quite a few recommendations, has someone who knows how to recruit. But will potential recruits be able to see beyond what’s happened in past seasons?

Modern college athletics is about current results and not previous accomplishments. With UW going 9-22 last season, Hopkins and his staff have some selling of the program to do.

What exactly is the national reputation of UW basketball?

“Washington has an incredible reputation nationally because of the successful players in the NBA and nationally,” Greenberg said. “The question is facilities. The West Coast does not have the facilities of the schools in the East or the Southeast.

“Lorenzo had great success and recruited terrific players. It’s a place that is a destination and where you can recruit nationally.”

From Cohen to Conroy to Hopkins, they all agree. UW has several aspects which make it an attractive destination for college basketball.

Hopkins said one of the reasons he took the job had to do with the amount of NBA-level talent from the area.

UW will do what it can to get the best players who are the strongest fit for Hopkins’ system. Hopkins said the key to recruiting isn’t necessarily finding the most talented player.

It’s about finding a player who both understands and can operate within a program’s framework.

“You gotta get guys you can coach,” Hopkins said. “You can get seduced by talent but at the end of the day, you gotta get the right fit and the right mental make up.

“When you are building something and something is going to be really hard, that character piece is huge.”

Greenberg said it should be a three-year process for Hopkins to get UW to be competitive on a national level.

“This is not a quick fix,” Greenberg said. “You want to build a foundation.”

Greenberg said its about developing an identity with your recruiting classes.

He said that’s becoming a challenge in today’s one-and-done landscape. The Huskies would know. Of the six first-round picks they’ve produced since 2012, four of them left school after one season.

Whether it’s UW or any program, he said the key is to have balance in a signing class. For every one-and-done player, have at least two or so players who will be there for four years.

Greenberg said those older players can develop and give a team a consistent amount of experience.

“An example of that would be how Notre Dame has done it,” Greenberg said of a Fighting Irish program which has reached the NCAA Tournament 12 times in the last 17 seasons under Mike Brey. “At every school, you have to figure out how you will win.”

Hopkins echoed those sentiments by saying it comes back to creating a culture.

Part of it is establishing consistency with what UW does on offense and defense. The rest stems from how the team performs away from the court.

For Hopkins, he wants players who understand that getting UW back to prominence isn’t just a four-month process.

“It’s something we’re fighting for every day. That’s the hardest part,” Hopkins said. “How you do anything is how you do everything. It’s a reflection. That’s the thing we’re really trying to implement more than our offense or defense.

“Who wants to be here. This is what we want to do. Be here with us. ... That’s when you’re going to start seeing the build and growth.”

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark

Editor’s note

This is the third 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 and second installment here.

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