Much can be gleaned from what the outside world has to say about the new Washington basketball coach, the one who has been designated to rebuild a team that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011.
It’s almost all glowing, as you would expect. But who is Mike Hopkins?
“Mike Hopkins is a guy that had a great family,” said Hopkins, who sits at his desk in the basketball offices at the Alaska Airlines Arena where there is a neon purple block ‘W’ behind him. “I had a great father, a role model, who was a guy who drove 65 miles, one way to work for 35 years, back and forth.”
Hopkins has many loves beyond basketball. There’s his wife, Trish, and their three children. But his first loves are his parents.
Griff and Sue Hopkins were each born in Seattle but later moved to Southern California. They met, raised a family and instilled certain characteristics.
From his dad, Hopkins learned a lot about work ethic and how the pursuit of excellence is never-ending. From his mother, he gained the value of communication and how to treat others.
These were skills which would become the foundation for Hopkins’ coaching career.
“I had a mom, who, you could be homeless on the street to a CEO to whatever. She just had incredible people skills,” Hopkins said. “She was great to everybody. That’s just who she was, so, I had the best of both worlds in terms of parents.”
That’s just one aspect of who Hopkins is as a person.
“Who is Mike Hopkins?” he repeats a few minutes later. “A guy that everybody said couldn’t do it. I was driven to show them that I could.”
Hopkins grew up in Laguna Hills, an Orange County suburb, playing baseball, basketball and soccer. Baseball and soccer held his interest but there was something far more magnetic about basketball.
Even back then, Hopkins was self-aware. If he won, he knew why. If he lost, he wanted to know more about why so he could win next time.
Hopkins recalls being the sixth-best freshman during his first year at Mater Dei, a Southern California high school power. By his junior year, he made the varsity.
“He was very talented,” said Mater Dei coach Gary McKnight, who coached Hopkins in high school. “Second of all, he was a workaholic and one of the toughest kids I’ve ever had.
“He was over shooting in my backyard when he was 12 years old.”
Throughout the course of a 32-minute interview earlier this month, Hopkins makes a few things clear.
One. He admits to never having the most talent but striving to have an unrelenting work ethic to make up for what he allegedly lacked.
Two. Hopkins is more than happy to give credit to any coach who ever helped him.
It starts with his youth baseball coach. The rest of the world knows him as Bob Johnson. A Southern California football coaching legend, he’s the mastermind behind the Mission Viejo football program. Johnson turned Viejo into a national powerhouse and, in turn, became one of the best private quarterback coaches in America.
Hopkins learned from McKnight, who has been at Mater Dei for 36 seasons and has captured more than 10 state championships.
Then Hopkins talks about learning from Marv Marinovich, the father of the former USC quarterback.
Wait a minute. You grew up with Bret and Rob Johnson? Plus Todd Marinovich?
“Yeah,” Hopkins says.
“I would go and train with Marv after school. I got into all his strength and conditioning stuff. I would catch passes for Todd,” Hopkins said. “It was like this group of people ... from the fifth, sixth and seventh grade, I was with (the Johnsons) and we were on a TV show ... at Bob Johnson’s house playing hoops and different games. It was pretty cool. It was incredible.
“Anyway, it’s random and no one knows that.”
McKnight said he’s known Marv Marinovich for most of his life and the reason he took a liking to Hopkins was due to his commitment and work ethic.
“Mike was competitive but he loved to please other people,” said McKnight, who has the most wins as a prep basketball coach in California history. “He really was a type of kid that he’d go out of his way to help people but he was extremely competitive.”
When he was 15, Hopkins went to a college’s basketball camp.
He told the coach at the time of the interest he had in his particular program.
The school was Syracuse and the coach was Jim Boeheim.
“He was probably the sixth man on his high school team but it was a very, very good high school team,” Boeheim said. “But I was impressed with how hard he played the game and how much he wanted to be a good basketball player and loved the game.
“He went from really having nobody recruiting him except us and grew. ... Worked hard, worked into a starter and captain of our team.”
Getting to Syracuse was a dream for Hopkins. Having to wait his turn, however, was a hellish reality for someone driven to prove people wrong.
Hopkins took a redshirt in his first season and was with the Orange from 1988 through 1993. Syracuse won 124 games during that stretch and was littered with talent.
Syracuse was fielding players like Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas and Billy Owens. These were all NBA-caliber talents and this was the level Hopkins competed against in practice.
“As a redshirt freshman, he got the crap beat out of him every day. It wasn’t even close,” Boeheim said. “He worked his way into being a captain and a really good player. That’s the kind of competitive guy you get when you get Mike Hopkins.”
Hopkins saw his playing time increase as he improved. He went from playing 20 games in his first season and averaging 2.9 points to featuring in 29 games and scoring 9.2 points in his final season.
“Not many would have come through the other side,” Boeheim said. “Most guys, today, they would have transferred to Cal-Pomona. Not him. He stuck it out and he started.”
By this point in life, Hopkins more or less had it all. He was the two-year captain on the basketball team who had earned the respect of his coaches and teammates.
Not everyone was impressed with Hopkins. At least not at first.
He asked out a fellow student, Trish Masterpol, on a date and they went out. Hopkins leaned in to kiss her and it wasn’t pretty.
“She’s like, ‘What are you doing?’ ” Hopkins recalled. “It was one of the most humbling experiences ever and I knew I wasn’t going to win this one.”
Time passed and Hopkins befriended the same student’s mother and aunt, who worked at the school.
“I’ll always remember she was at the salad bar with a mock red turtleneck on,” he said. “Her mother and aunt would say, ‘If I were you, I’d make another attempt at Trish.’ ”
Hopkins found the courage to ask her out and this time he did not try to kiss her. It turned out to be the right move because Mike and Trish Hopkins will celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary next September.
Trish describes her husband as a “big family guy” who puts family above everything.
She says Hopkins is a romantic and devoted father who is also a huge Pearl Jam fan.
“I was going to Pearl Jam concerts from the time we were dating, when I was pregnant, you name it,” she said. “If we could make it, we were going to it.”
Shepherding his pregnant wife to a Pearl Jam concert is not the most bizarre story Trish has about when she was pregnant with the couple’s first child.
Trish was due in March with their son, Griff, who is now 16 years old.
Hopkins was in a tough spot. He wanted to be there for the birth of his first child but also felt obligated to study film leading up to the Big East Tournament.
“He meanders and finagles his way into getting this room at the hospital, so we can have the games and tapes in there and have guys who are helping and getting that stuff into that room,” she said. “So we had those lovely people watching and scouting and making sure we are getting film for the Big East Tournament while we are having our first-born son.”
Although Hopkins grew up in Southern California, his wife was born and raised in and around Syracuse.
So were their children.
That’s what made leaving upstate New York for the Pacific Northwest tough, especially considering that Hopkins was promised the keys to the kingdom once Boeheim stepped down.
“I think that we kinda knew. You kinda know in the back of your mind, you have been doing this for 20 years,” Trish said. “Let’s take this leap. Let’s do this. He’s more than ready.
“It’s such an exciting opportunity in a great city.”
Hopkins met with UW athletic director and Tacoma native, Jennifer Cohen, about replacing Lorenzo Romar.
Their talks were productive and Hopkins came away even more intrigued about taking over the program.
He loved what Cohen had to say about UW being a program with limitless possibilities.
And there was something else which drew him.
UW hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since the 2011 season. It’s a jarring statistic because the university had eight former players on NBA rosters to start the season.
The Seattle-Tacoma area has birthed several college and NBA standouts. Hypothetically, it could give the Huskies the first crack at the area’s next great star.
Details such as these are why UW’s fan base grew impatient with the team’s NCAA Tournament drought.
From the perspective of Cohen and the university’s administration, it all makes sense.
If Hopkins could go from being the sixth-best player on his high school team that eventually became a captain at Syracuse, is it too far-fetched to believe he could be the man who resurrects a once proud program?
“You just feel like something’s right. That’s why I didn’t tell anybody,” Hopkins said. “That’s why I didn’t have a conversation with anybody. I was going to do what I felt was best for me and my family.
“There were three people who knew: my agent, my wife and Jen Cohen. ... I knew in my heart that this was right.”
Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark
“Who is Mike Hopkins?” is the first entry in a three-part series the News Tribune is reporting about Washington’s newest men’s basketball coach.