After five-star Federal Way forward Jaden McDaniels committed to Washington last week, Huskies head coach Mike Hopkins made something very clear: He wasn’t setting out to build a program around one-and-dones.
Even though UW now has two players — McDaniels and five-star center Isaiah Stewart — who will likely be top-15 picks in the 2020 NBA Draft, Hopkins said his staff was never driven by rankings or stars.
“What drives us is getting the right people, getting the right fits,” he said. “If they happen to be one-and-done, they are one-and-done. If they happen to be two-and-done, three-and-done, four-and-done. ... our job is to develop them on and off the court and try to help make their dreams come true.
“We had recruited at Syracuse so many guys that we thought were going to be in college that ended up being one-and-done and they had great years and the team won and they decided to go.”
Still, it’s hard to ignore the Huskies’ 2019 recruiting class, mostly because its arguably their best class in school history. In signing McDaniels and Stewart, UW secured two top-10 players in the same class for the first time.
The Huskies are also bringing in four-star shooting guard RaeQuan Battle and three-star point guard Marcus Tsohonis. And come the start of the winter quarter, they’ll have former-five star point guard Quade Green, a transfer from Kentucky.
Rivals (No. 7) and 247Sports (No. 10) consider UW to have a top-10 class nationally and rank the Huskies third in the Pac-12 behind Arizona and USC, respectively. And with traditional Pac-12 powers like Arizona and UCLA recently experiencing down seasons, Rivals national basketball analyst Eric Bossi said it’s a “new era in the Pac-12.” UW is in prime position to take advantage.
“What better time to really be locking in on bigger name guys and building the program and maybe stepping to the top of the conference?” Bossi said.
The Huskies have put together top-10 recruiting classes before. In 2005, 2006 and 2015, former head coach Lorenzo Romar secured the No. 9, No. 8 and No. 7 classes in the country, respectively. The 2006 class was considered No. 1 in the Pac-12.
But after going to the NCAA Tournament in 2011, the Huskies didn’t make it back again until last year when they won the Pac-12 regular season title and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. That drought occurred despite a 2015 recruiting class that ranked second in the conference and featured the top-four players in the state, including four-star guard Dejounte Murray.
“That’s the one thing that Lorenzo Romar during his time was certainly outstanding at,” Bossi said. “It was almost impossible to get big-time talent out of Seattle. Some guys would leave from time to time but for the most part, he kept the talent home and they produced a lot of draft picks from that.
“Now, they didn’t have the NCAA Tournament success that I think people would have hoped for. But theoretically, if these guys keep staying at home, I think that NCAA Tournament success is going to come.”
While UW’s 2018 class didn’t have a single player from Washington, McDaniels (No. 1) and Battle (No. 3) are two of the top three players in the state.
Hopkins credited his staff with building those relationships. Former UW guard Will Conroy is in his fourth season with the program while former Seattle University head coach Cameron Dollar is in his second. Both have strong connections to the area.
“It always takes a village,” Hopkins said. “But when you have the guys on your staff from the area that are so well respected and they’re such good coaches and they’re such good people, it just helps.
“On top of that, for (the players) to show faith in what we’re trying to build here, it’s just great for the younger kids coming up in the area because to be a great program, you want hometown kids wanting to stay home and wanting to represent their city and their school. That’s what we’re trying to accomplish and be. So to be able to get RaeQuan and Jaden are just huge steps moving forward with what we’re trying to build.”
Big-time programs in the East and Midwest have an advantage for top recruits because of prime-time television exposure, Bossi said. For UW, that means it’s not only important for the state’s top players to stay home, but also for the Huskies to earn consideration through word of mouth.
“Big-time players pay attention to what other guys are doing and they talk to each other,” Bossi said. “If (McDaniels and Stewart) win and are able to one-and-done guys and they enjoy their time there, they are going to tell the guys behind them about that and it can kind of steamroll a little bit. So it’s potentially a huge thing.”
Stewart, who was born in Rochester, N.Y., and plays for La Lumiere School in Indiana, is coming to UW from across the country mostly because of the relationship he built with Hopkins from the time he was in eighth grade.
“We were really fortunate to have relationships, my staff, myself, with kids in this class that are one-and-done guys,” Hopkins said. “The key is the guys in your program that you’re developing. You have a developmental system, high-character kids and they just keep getting better and better and want to be here and they want to play for something real.”
While McDaniels and Stewart headline UW’s class, Bossi said another player could end up being the most important piece. It was Battle that kept catching Bossi’s attention when he was watching highlights from Washington’s state basketball tournament.
Bossi said he’s the kind of player the Huskies could build their future around. And having veterans players on the roster, along with one-and-done talent, is often vital to NCAA Tournament success.
“With young players, they eventually become young players and that’s tough to overcome on a yearly basis when you’re totally turning over your roster,” Bossi said. “So having guys who are going to be stable, who are going to be around in your program, having sophomores or juniors or seniors who are going to be as good as some of these one-and-done guys, it’s hugely important.
“I don’t think you see many teams going deep and truly competing for national championships without having a nice bit of balance. I think that’s something you see in some of these places are starting to try working their way to having more balance because they realize that they need it.”