Coach Hop Is Rounding Out His 2017 Class

After all the defections and transfers, we’re finally at a point where a team is starting to take shape for the 2017/2018 season.  First, there were a couple of lower-level pick-ups in Michael Carter III and Nate Pryor, both guards.  Then, they were able to hang onto erstwhile Romar recruit Jaylen Nowell, who is also a guard.  In lieu of going after some JuCo transfers (who are notoriously difficult for the Huskies to bring in, due to our stupid high academic standards), Coach Hop has opted to poach from his old New York stomping grounds, in picking up shooting guard Nahziah Carter (who just so happens to be Jay-Z’s nephew), and 6’8 small forward Hameir Wright (who was thought to be a 2018 recruit, but is planning to reclassify to this year).

What this continues to emphasize is the Huskies’ considerable lack of big men.  Dickerson is the only real true power forward on the roster, and our two centers are a couple of nobodies in Sam Timmins and Devenir Duruisseau.  Which means that we’re either going to be playing A LOT of small ball, or we’re going to be giving considerable playing time to a couple of ineffective centers just to play defense and hopefully not get in anyone’s way.

Ideally, the Huskies would find a way to make quasi-small ball work, with Dickerson at center and Wright at power forward, but that’s going to hinge on those two not getting into constant foul trouble.  If they can manage that, this isn’t as crazy as it sounds.  Mostly because the Huskies have a lot of good height among their swingmen.  Nahziah Carter is 6’5, Nowell is 6’4, Thybulle is 6’5, Green is 6’6, Carlos Johnson is 6’4, Carter III is 6’4.  The only guy who really figures to get a lot of playing time who’s under 6’4 is David Crisp.  As long as we defend well and give a lot of effort in the rebounding department, we shouldn’t get too killed for being undersized (except when we play the Arizonas of the world, which is what it is).

I’m keeping my expectations pretty low in his first season, understanding that these types of transitions take time to really make an impact.  At this point, I’d settle for a team that’s fun to watch and maybe wins a few games it shouldn’t, but ultimately loses too many games it should, and finds itself in the N.I.T. range.  With the way the NBA is turning into a long-range shooting league, you’d think that sort of strategy would be ideal for a small-ish team like the Huskies, to just spread everyone out, drive the lane, and pass the ball well.  Ultimately, where size might kill us is defensively, if teams continuously decide to go after the likes of Dickerson to get him into foul trouble.  Hopefully, the coaching staff is working on making up for this deficiency somehow.

Noah Dickerson Is Staying With The Huskies

By crikey, it’s been nothing but reasonably good news for the Washington Huskies men’s basketball program since its nadir about a month ago!  I mean, honestly, how could it get much worse?  The Dawgs just finished the season 9-22 (including only a whopping 2 wins in conference play).  They fired longtime head coach (and one of the best-ever in program history) Lorenzo Romar.  They lost out on 4/5 of their top-notch recruiting class (and one of the best two or three in the entire nation).  And, they were looking at a bevy of potential defections from last year’s team, including the aforementioned Noah Dickerson.

Well, after testing the waters as it were, including a trip to the University of Virginia (where I’m certain the chances of playing for a winning program and an NCAA Tournament berth were paramount among the coaching staff’s sales pitch), Noah Dickerson has indeed decided to stay with the University of Washington.

WHEW!

I know that looked sarcastic, but it actually is a relief that Dickerson is staying.  Obviously, Husky basketball has been on a downward spiral for a while now, but Dickerson is still a capable and productive big man at the Pac-12 level.  Among returning players, he’s second in scoring and first in rebounds from last season.  He also – as has been pointed out in various articles and blog posts – really came on late in the season, particularly in the last four games where he averaged 21 points and 10 boards in the absence of Markelle Fultz.  Now, obviously, you could look at that and say, “Of COURSE his numbers went up with Fultz going out!  Who else was going to pick up the slack on that team?”  And, obviously, the answer is no one.  The Huskies had no one else last year.  Not a God damned person.  But, you know, from the eye test, if nothing else, it looked like Dickerson really made some strides in his game.  Now, we’re going to pair that with a fresh set of coaching eyes in Mike Hopkins, who will hopefully be able to bring out even more in a talented ball of clay like Dickerson.

So, looking at the 2017/2018 Huskies now, we have an even clearer picture.  Returning, we have:  Crisp, Thybulle, Dickerson, and Carlos Johnson.  We’ve also got Dominic Green, who from what I’ve read, appears to be some sort of special project for Coach Hop.  He was quoted as saying something to the effect of how fans won’t even recognize Green next season, with all the improvements to his game.  If that’s the case, color me intrigued.  Also, for what it’s worth, Sam Timmins returns as another big man to throw onto the pile.  As has been noted pretty much everywhere, the Huskies have room to recruit more big men – almost certainly from the JuCo Transfer scrap heap – so stay tuned there.

On top of those returning players, we have Jaylen Nowell, who most certainly has the talent to step in and start right away.  You can pair him with Crisp at guard, with Johnson as a spark off the bench, with Thybulle and Green as your swing men, and Dickerson as your forward (or center, if you want to play small ball), on top of whatever we’re able to get out of our two other recruits – Michael Carter and Nate Pryor (who I still contend will be bench guys who hopefully see more playing time as the season progresses) – and I’m still not going to go overboard on this team’s potential, but I could be talked into the Huskies being something of a “surprise” team.  One that’s projected to be among the dregs, but out-plays its projections to be middle-of-the-road.

Obviously, without seeing these guys in action, I’m making some HUGE assumptions here.  I think a lot of it depends on what we’re able to get out of Timmins in his second season.  I highly doubt Romar ever wanted him to be our starter, but with the Dime injury in the middle of the season, Timmins got a lot more minutes than he probably deserved.  And, quite frankly, he didn’t look good at all.  You’re certainly not counting on him to be a heavy scorer, or even get a lot of looks down in the post, but you need Timmins to play good defense and clean up on the boards.  If you can just get that, and something similar from the JuCo ranks, and you can get the rest of this team to really buy in to the whole “playing defense” thing, I think that’s really your best bet for a fun and exciting Husky basketball season.

Somewhere out there, there’s an alternate universe that’s almost exactly the same as this one, except in that universe Lorenzo Romar didn’t get fired, and we’re looking at a team with his recruiting class coming in.  I feel like the alternate universe version of myself would be about as jacked up as can be about the prospects of that team; either it would be fantastic, and we’d ride that wave into the Tourney, or it would be a disaster, and we’d be out of our minds with fear and loathing.

In this universe, I’m still pretty jacked up for the upcoming season, but for very different reasons.  I can’t wait to see Coach Hop in action, I can’t wait to see how the players respond, and I really can’t wait to see the Huskies start winning some games they’re supposed to lose.  It’s been a while since I can remember the last honest-to-goodness upset go in our favor; usually it’s the other way around and it’s the Yale’s of the world upsetting us on our home court.  Any way you slice it, there’s going to be a lot to discuss about the Washington Husky basketball season later this year, and when was the last time you could say that?

Huskies Were Able To Keep Jaylen Nowell

Big news on the recruiting trail, as Jaylen Nowell decided to maintain his committment to the University of Washington.  He’s a 4-star guard out of Garfield High who is the only one out of Romar’s final (5-man) recruiting class before he was fired.

I’ll admit, I had my doubts on this one.  I thought it bode pretty poorly that A) his high school coach was recently hired by Wazzu to bolster their assistant coaching staff, and B) Lorenzo Romar himself was hired to be an assistant with the University of Arizona.  Oh yeah!  Did I bury the lede on this one?  Lorenzo Romar is with the Wildcats, as the rich get richer (side note:  his contract apparently pays him $400K per year).

To be fair, with the prior stories coming out that even after Romar had been fired, he was still encouraging players to stick with the University of Washington, in the ultimate Good Guy move to end all Good Guy moves, it seemed unlikely that he would subsequently try to poach Nowell.  And, also to be fair, we have no idea Arizona’s level of interest in a player like Nowell.  Maybe they’re stuffed to the gills with 4-star guards!  I have no idea and I refuse to do any research on the topic.  Nevertheless, there was always the outside chance that Nowell would’ve been so smitten with Romar that he would’ve followed him wherever he went.  It’s just nice to see the University of Washington and Coach Hop have at least a little sway in the community.

I find it terribly interesting how this Romar to Arizona thing plays out.  He is, if nothing else, a boss recruiter, and I’m sure all those relationships he’s built with future recruits will MORE than translate.  I mean, if he was close to getting some brilliant 2018-and-beyond recruits to come to Washington, imagine how much easier it’ll be for him to convince them to go to a place like Arizona!  As a Husky fan, it’s gut-wrenching, because I think this sets up the Wildcats to be even better than they already would’ve been (as it stands, they were always going to be at or near the top of the conference).  I think this puts them in the conversation to make the Final Four and be a HUGE juggernaut in the years to come.

I also wonder just how long he is for a place like Arizona.  You’re talking about a guy with significant head coaching experience.  If he’s this quick to stay in the game he loves, that tells me he’s still got the hunger in him.  In which case, I’m sure he’s itching to get back in the hotseat somewhere, to control a program his way.  What an opportunity like this affords him is that he’ll be able to write his own check, so to speak.  Say what you will about his last few years at Washington, there’s no denying he was able to get some very high-profile recruits to play here.  Now, imagine you’re a higher profile school like Texas or UConn or Florida or something.  I’m just picking names out of a hat here, but imagine you’re a bigtime university who wants to be a bigtime basketball program (or you’re a recent basketball power who fell on some hard times).  If you hire Romar, it’s going to be MUCH easier for him to recruit those 4-star & 5-star guys than it was for him at Washington.  He won’t need to make deals with the Porter’s Fathers of the world to get incredible talent.  When you tack on a successful short-term stint at Arizona, where he can point to bigtime players he’ll be able to help bring in, it’s going to be all that much easier for him to get a very high profile coaching gig.  And that’s saying nothing of the man’s character, which is his obvious primary selling point.  So, watch out for bigtime programs going through some NCAA troubles in the coming seasons.

The obvious ultimate destination for Romar is UCLA.  He was an assistant coach there in the early 90s, and while their current head coach, Steve Alford, has taken them to the Sweet 16 in three out of four years, the Bruins obviously have higher asperations.  Can you imagine Romar’s recruiting power if you gave him that job in Los Angeles, California?  I’m telling you, it will be a sight to behold.

As for Nowell, this really softens the blow after the exodus following Romar’s dismissal.  Pair him with Crisp and Thybulle in the backcourt and you’ve got something there.  Again, this doesn’t diminish the fact that the Huskies have little-to-no depth – particularly in the front court – but for now I’m just going for them to not be collosal embarrassments.  Anything resembling the Huskies being a fun team to watch in Year One I’m going to consider a success.  Anything beyond that is something out of my wildest dreams.  Baby steps with the new regime.  They get a hearty KUDOS from me in getting a very important local player to stay local.  Add him to the other two guards we brought in, and it looks like we’re more than set in that end of the court.  Now, bring in a big man or two, and convince Noah Dickerson to stick around, and I might even allow myself to dare to dream!

Mike Hopkins Has A Couple New Recruits For Husky Basketball

Things were looking pretty dire a couple weeks ago, when I last looked over the state of Washington Husky basketball.  So, how are they looking now?

Well, for starters, there are conflicting reports out there about Noah Dickerson’s future.  People are saying he’s still weighing his options, but from the look of the Husky basketball twitter page, I see he’s been involved in some off-season program work under coach Hopkins.  So, we’ll see, I guess.  There’s no way the fate of next season hinges on Dickerson’s staying or leaving – the Huskies are still bound to be pretty terrible – but it will mean the difference between being bad vs. one of the worst teams in the entire country.  At least with Dickerson and some of the holdovers in the fold, we should be able to stay in some games anyway.

In other news, considering most of the erstwhile Romar recruits have gone on to other programs, what’s Coach Hop doing to further this program right now?  Well, for starters, he got local product Michael Carter III to switch from the University of San Francisco to the University of Washington.  Carter is a shooting guard who has had a recent growth spurt (up to 6’5 now) and has really buckled down on his game.  I have no idea what that will translate to at the Pac-12 level, but I don’t think we’re talking about a superstar here.  He’s anywhere from Unranked to 2-stars coming out of high school, so obviously there’s work to be done.  I think, best case scenario, he develops slowly over time, to become a big contributor as an upper classman.  I’d say the better his outside shot, the better his chances of playing right away as a Freshman.  Dear lord, please tell me he has an outside shot!

I like that he’s coming in with a bit of a chip on his shoulder.  It’s served the Seahawks well, anyway.  But, here’s a guy who couldn’t get a shot with a major conference basketball team – hell, not even with the Cougars! – who now has his life turned around thanks to this coaching change at Washington.  There are no delusions that Carter can even hold the jock of Michael Porter Jr., but that’s not really the point right now.  He’s someone who wants to be here, right now that has to be enough.  As Washington fans, we’ve had a pretty crappy last few weeks in the wake of Romar’s firing, with guys wanting out.  It’s nice just to have a couple guys who want to come in.  Carter sounds like a kid who will come in, fight hard, compete, and if he puts in the work, should develop into a nice player for us down the line.  So, I’ll take it.

The other recruit we were able to snag was Nate Pryor, who had committed to Seattle U back when Cameron Dollar was still their coach.  As Dollar has since returned to the Huskies in an assistant capacity, this was a no-brainer.  Pryor is a 6’1 point guard out of West Seattle and appears to be a prototypical floor leader.  Again, though, we’re not talking about a guy coming over from a major conference team; this is a case of the Huskies targeting some local guys Romar had passed over in favor of some more athletic and talented options.

What that doesn’t tell us though is who will be better.  Obviously, high school scouting is an inexact science, but more often than not 4- and 5-star guys end up being worth the hype.  That doesn’t mean that guys like Carter or Pryor are destined to stink, but it probably does mean the learning curve is greater, and that they might not make a big impact on the program until later in their careers.  The question we’ll always be asking ourselves is:  will Coach Hop get more out of guys like Carter and Pryor than Romar would’ve gotten out of guys like Porter and Davis?  In Year 1, you’d have to think Romar would’ve had the edge.  But, considering those guys were likely to be One & Done, maybe in the long run Carter and Pryor pan out?  Or, shit, maybe the Huskies still would’ve stunk with Porter and Davis this year; the point is, we’ll never REALLY know.  But, we’ve got the next four years to speculate.

In Erstwhile Romar Recruits news, apparently Jaylen Nowell hasn’t made a decision on where he’ll be playing basketball next year.  Which means, technically, he’s still a Husky recruit.  And a pretty great one at that.  4-stars, 6’4, out of Garfield High, with a quality dribble drive, but some work to do on his outside shot.  I’m not holding my breath on this one, but it would be a real boon to the program if we could get him to stay.  Particularly considering WSU recently hired his old high school coach to be an assistant over in Pullman.  I could see that committment flipping anytime now, which would be a real drag.  It’s one thing to lose the Porter Brothers to Missouri and their dad’s new sham assistant coaching job, but to lose a highly-rated Seattle kid to Wazzu?  I mean, is there any coming back from that?

From here, it looks like the Huskies need to get one big man to round things out (two big men, if Dickerson decides to jump ship).  Pickin’s are pretty slim, this late in the recruiting period, so again, I wouldn’t expect a whole lot.  Let’s just hope Coach Hop and Co. are better able to recruit big men than Romar was.  For my own sanity, if nothing else.

Shit Is Hitting The God Damned Fan In The Husky Basketball Program

It’s incredibly difficult to keep up with all of this, but I’m going to try my damnedest to give a recap.

So, remember all that excitement when the Huskies hired Mike Hopkins away from Syracuse and we thought we were getting someone with the potential to be special?  Well, I hope there’s some magic in that old silk hat he found, because the Huskies are hemorrhaging players, prospects, and even prospective assistant coaching candidates, with no relief in sight!  Where do I even begin?

Jason Hart, an assistant at USC many believed would be coming over with Hopkins, decided to stay in Southern California (probably with a hefty raise attached to his contract), so there goes our California recruiting connection.  Instead, the Huskies were able to hire unemployed Cameron Dollar – fresh off being fired by Seattle U for 8 years of head coaching mediocrity – so I guess that gives us maybe an “In” with the Seattle-area high schools.  You know, in case Will Conroy wasn’t enough.

Know that I’m writing this tight-lipped and a little bit annoyed:  we fired Romar … then we hired one of his top assistants from back in the Romar glory days?  If the idea is We Need To Make A Change, how exactly is Dollar bringing about this change?

It’s obviously not helping us keep the players we have on roster, nor the recruits we tabbed coming in our 2017 class!  The Huskies have officially lost 4 of the 5 recruits from our best-ever recruiting class, as Michael Porter Jr., Daejon Davis, Blake Harris, and Mamoudou Diarra have all de-committed/asked to be released from their LOI.  On top of that, reserve big man Matthew Atewe and starting big man Noah Dickerson have both decided they’re going to transfer, which ultimately leaves the Husky program in shambles heading into the 2017/2018 season.

On the bright side, we’ve got re-commits from the likes of David Crisp, Dominic Green, Carlos Johnson, and Matisse Thybulle, which I guess is better than nothing.  No word yet from Sam Timmins, Dan Kingma, or Devenir Duruisseau, but if you’re like me, you forgot Devenir Duruisseau was even on the roster (I thought he transferred ages ago!).  And, also, no word on potential incoming recruit Jaylen Nowell, but it fucking feels like only a matter of time before he asks for his release as well.

There might be a couple of other guys on the roster, walk-ons or whatnot, but they’re not important.  By my count, that’s 7 guys returning and 1 guy from our incoming Freshman class (for now).  Considering how late it is in the recruiting period, and considering the coaching staff isn’t even fully formed yet, I don’t know what we’re supposed to expect out of the Huskies come this fall, but get ready for an overwhelmingly last place finish!

Even if we were able to keep Dickerson, Atewe, and just the two local recruits, next season would’ve been a struggle.  But this is insanity times!  I hate to say I told you so, but this is what happens when you fire a head coach that’s this beloved.  When you sign on to join a university – particularly in basketball, because they’re such a close-knit unit – you sign because of a coach, not the school.  These guys signed on to play for Lorenzo Romar, not the University of Washington, for better or for worse.

I shudder to think of what this will mean for the program going forward.  I mean, if you thought last year was bad, get a load of 2018!  If you thought we bottomed out before, you ain’t seen nothing yet!  So, on top of having the stink of being the worst Pac-12 basketball team next year, we’ve got the stink of a school that fired a beloved, long-term head coach.  So, you know, not for nothing but we all better hope Mike Hopkins can coach his ass off, or this year of “growing pains” or whatever could build into an entire tenure of utter humiliation.

Fancy that, it’s like Washington ISN’T a destination program for college basketball or something!  Weird!

Washington Huskies Hired Mike Hopkins

When I headed off to my long weekend in Reno, the talk of the local sports world was on Lorenzo Romar’s firing.  When I woke up on Sunday, preparing to hop on a plane back to Seattle, his replacement had been hired and here we go.

Mike Hopkins has been an assistant coach at Syracuse since 1996.  He’s been the official “head coach in-waiting” under Jim Boeheim since 2015.  I know so little about Syracuse basketball, I was actually surprised to learn Boeheim was still there.  For some reason, I thought he retired a year or two ago.  Other than that, I know Syracuse has been a premiere college basketball program for some time.  I know they play some sort of zone defense exclusively.  And, I know they make the NCAA Tournament almost every year.

What I’ve learned about Mike Hopkins is that he was supposed to take over as head coach for Syracuse at the conclusion of the 2017/2018 season.  I’ve learned that a number of schools have tried to hire him away, including USC and Oregon State, but for various reasons it fell through.  I’ve learned that Hopkins has been the primary recruiter for some time with the Orangemen (with Boeheim being the “closer” for some of the top recruits), and that he’s very actively involved in the team’s gameplans and scouting.  So, you know, we’re talking about a situation with Boeheim that you see a lot when a head coach has been in the same spot for upwards of 41 years:  you see an old man delegating the shit out of his responsibilities.  And so, in essence, we’re hiring away the “real” head coach of Syracuse, in all but name only.

My initial thought when I heard about the signing was:  why would he come to Washington NOW?  If he’s really a year away from taking over at Syracuse – which is the only school he’s ever worked for, as well as the school he played for from 1989-1993 – then why does he jump ship now?  It has since come out that Syracuse is going to extend Jim Boeheim beyond 2018, which they are spinning as a move done in response to Washington’s hire, but I’m not so sure.  It would stand to reason that Boeheim – being effectively forced out by the school when they announced Hopkins would be the head coach in-waiting – resented not being able to go out on his own terms, and has fought behind the scenes to stick around.  I’d be willing to put money down that Boeheim had an extension either in place or in the process of being in place, and once Hopkins heard about it, he opened himself up to moving onto another program.

I’m sure there are other reasons that will be discussed this week when he comes over for his initial press conference.  I can’t imagine it would be fun to be the guy who follows in Boeheim’s footsteps once he retires; that’s a huge burden to bear.  In Washington, he’s got a chance to build something great.  If he’s as good a coach and recruiter as I’m hearing, he could be for Washington what Boeheim is to Syracuse.  And, then there’s the fact that he has family on the west coast and whatnot.  It’s never any one thing that brings a guy to make a decision like this, so I’m sure we’ll get fed multiple lines of reasoning.

As far as how I think he’ll do, I’m going to go with Cautiously Optimistic.  He’s never been the head guy before.  Outside of recruiting circles, he’s a virtual unknown.  While he’s FROM the West Coast, he has no real basketball ties to this side of the country, so whoever he ends up hiring as his assistants will factor HUGELY.  And, even though we’re not going to be able to hold onto Romar’s final recruiting class, I think he’ll be a nice breath of fresh air for the players who stick around.  Hopefully, he’ll be able to light a fire under them, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.

I have a general feeling about new college head coaching hires, and it’s this:  I’m never going to trust them completely, until they give me reason to.  The college game, whether it’s football or basketball, is all about jumping from school to school.  And I can’t help but see Washington as a stepping stone to other places.  Just as soon as they have some success here, they’re gone.  It didn’t take much for Coach Sark to fly the coup back to USC.  I’m sure Chris Petersen gets calls daily about going to some bigger program.  Rick Neuheisel was seemingly taking weekly interviews with other schools and NFL teams, for crying out loud!  Washington isn’t a destination; it’s a slingshot to bigger and better things.

While Boeheim isn’t going anywhere for the time being, he’s still over 70 years old.  Who’s to say he won’t retire in the next 3-5 years?  And, when that time comes, what’s going to stop Mike Hopkins from returning to his Dream Job, particularly if he turns the Husky program around and gets us back into the Tourney in that time?

Or, shit, what if UCLA’s job opens up in that time?  His west coast family is in the southern California area, so that has to be of interest.  And, if he does REALLY well at Washington, what’s stopping him from going to any number of bigger basketball schools?

Obviously, money talks, and if you’re a good-enough coach, you can establish a top line basketball program literally anywhere.  If Gonzaga can be as well regarded as it is, there’s no reason why Washington couldn’t.  It then becomes a point of whether or not Washington wants to invest in the basketball program as much as it does the football program.  So, you know, at this point we’re talking about not trusting the university enough, but let’s not go down that road until we have to.

We’ll see, I guess, is the bottom line.  First thing’s first:  how will Mike Hopkins salvage next season’s recruiting class?  It won’t define his tenure by any means, but it’s the first big test on his desk.