Washington head coach Mike Hopkins looks at his team and sees top-tier talent. He sees the potential for defensive greatness, for lineups that could overwhelm opponents with height and athleticism.
But he also sees youth and mistakes and room for growth. He sees Western Washington’s eight 3-pointers in the second half — and then he marks that down as unacceptable.
The Huskies have yet to play their first regular season game — they open on Nov. 8 against No. 16 Baylor — but Hopkins isn’t about to let his young group ease into anything. After UW’s 87-63 exhibition game victory over Western Washington, it seemed like Hopkins was looking right at the Huskies’ high ceiling. And he doesn’t want them to miss it.
“I think the talent level is huge,” Hopkins said. “There are still a lot of plays we’re making that you can’t make in big games. I tell them, I don’t want to be so tough with the way I coach but I’m going to coach like you guys are veterans and four-year players. It’s just the way it is.”
Sometimes, the Huskies played like veterans on Thursday night. Sometimes they didn’t. That’s what happens to teams that lose five out of their top six scorers from a group that won the Pac-12 regular season title and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
But the potential? The potential was there all night long.
And it started with a pair of five-star freshmen.
Unless you traveled to Italy for UW’s foreign tour, or managed to sneak into the gym for the private scrimmage against TCU, this was the first chance to see top-10 recruits Jaden McDaniels and Isaiah Stewart in person. While Stewart played in Italy and against the Horned Frogs, Thursday marked McDaniels’ debut.
Both are projected to be lottery picks next year’s NBA Draft. And in their first game playing side-by-side, they didn’t disappoint. Stewart finished with a double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds while McDaniels had 13 points, eight rebounds, three steals, three assists and one block.
“He’s so unselfish,” Hopkins said of McDaniels. “They only have him for three assists. I think he had more. He made so many just good plays, helping each other, extra passes. Defensively, he flies around. He’s got a great IQ. He had one block when they had a high-low. That was a big energy changer. Those types of plays, they get the crowd going and flying. … I thought he looked great in his debut. Comfortable.”
As for Stewart, Hopkins said he’s “going to be as consistent as any player in America.” When it comes to the consensus No. 3 player in his class, it’s simple. In Hopkins’ words, he does everything right.
“He’s a beast,” Hopkins said. “He’s on the glass. He’s running the court. He anchors your defense. The greatest thing about these kids, they always think they can better. Even today, they’ll be frustrated, saying, ‘I got to play better.’ That’s good. That’s what championship teams do. That’s what championship people do. And that’s all Isaiah Stewart is.”
Stewart and McDaniels started alongside sophomore point guard Elijah Hardy and juniors Nahziah Carter and Hameir Wright. The Huskies held Western Washington to 30 percent shooting from the field, including 24 percent in the first half. The Vikings shot 37.5 percent from beyond the arc, but made 50 percent (8-of-16) of their threes in the second half.
“We turned it up,” said Jamal Bey, who finished with a team-high 20 points off the bench. “We kept it out the middle for the most part but we gave up a lot of threes that we don’t normally give up.”
For Hopkins, that second half is where the game started to come apart. The turnovers were good — UW forced 21, including 13 steals — but he wanted more from his defense. Last year, he said, the Huskies prided themselves on guarding the 3-point line and shutting down the opponent’s best player.
But Western Washington had success behind the arc in the second half, and Trevor Jasinsky shot 5-of-10 from three and finished with 19 points. UW only outscored the Vikings by one point, 41-40, after the break. Maybe it’s nit-picking a 24-point win. But Hopkins is going to nitpick.
“They were able to make a couple (threes) late in the clock,” Hopkins said. “We have to clean that up. That can’t happen anymore. In second half, they did a great job moving the ball to get shots and they made them.
“I was unhappy with the eight 3-pointers in the second half. To me, I was a little frustrated with the defensive part because that’s what we have to be able to great at. We have the potential to be great at that. We got to clean that up.”
That potential is obvious just from a glance at UW’s roster. The Huskies have eight players 6-foot-9 or taller. Often, four of them were on the floor at the same time against Western Washington. That length, particularly in Hopkins’ two-three zone, will be a nightmare for most opposing teams. It’s often a nightmare for UW in practice.
“It’s kind of scary, really,” McDaniels said. “Even practicing against it, you got to think twice before you do stuff because their arms are so long.”
The Huskies looked dynamic offensively, too. Along with McDaniels, Stewart and Bey, Carter also reached double figures with 11 points. UW shot 52.4 percent from the field, including 6-of-18 from beyond the arc. Bey shot 5-of-7 from the field and 3-of-5 from the 3-point line. The Huskies took every opportunity to get out in transition, with the 6-foot-9 Stewart often trailing behind to finish the fastbreak with a thunderous dunk.
“I think it’s really hard when there’s so many people that can do so many different things,” Bey said. “If they double that person, like Jaden, then me or Naz or Isaiah or whoever is open, it’s like playing H-O-R-S-E.”
But the road is about to get a lot tougher for the Huskies. If Thursday was a tune-up, the first real test will come against Baylor next week.
“We had a lot more experience last year, obviously, with all the seniors,” Bey said. “But we have enough players that knew what we doing last year just to help the young guys. They are more than good enough to play at this level.”