At What Point Should We Start Worrying About Mike Hopkins Leaving The University Of Washington?

It’s pretty remarkable how good the Huskies have had it in recent years. Chris Petersen has taken the job with the football team and exceeded our wildest expectations, culminating with an appearance in the College Football Playoffs in 2016. It makes sense, somewhat, as the football team has always been the pride and joy of the University of Washington for upwards of a hundred years now.

The basketball team has always been the Little Brother in that regard. In the modern era, we always point to the Lorenzo Romar teams as the cream of the crop, but obviously towards the end there, things got REAL bad.

Mike Hopkins was a relative unknown when he was hired prior to the 2017/2018 season. A career assistant with Syracuse, he’d never helmed a program, but he seemed to be one of the coaches most fit for a promotion. When it became apparent that his promotion wouldn’t be coming from his alma mater any time soon, he jumped at Washington’s offer, and it’s been nothing but a joy to behold.

Two years – and two Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards – later, we’re in some serious uncharted waters. The Huskies went from a real nadir of 9-22 (2-16 in conference) during Romar’s final season, and improved to 21-13 in Hop’s rookie year. From there, the Huskies were conference champs at 27-9, winning a game in the NCAA Tournament (breaking an 8-year drought) to boot.

You could be forgiven if you expect a bit of a step back for 2019/2020, what with all the players we’ve lost. Four seniors – plus the Pac-12 Player of the Year in Jaylen Nowell (who is committed to entering the NBA Draft as an underclassman) – are gone, and they comprised such a high majority of our production last year.

But, while I won’t rule out potential disappointment, I’ll also argue that the ceiling has never been higher for a Husky team. Check out these incoming would-be studs:

  • Isaiah Stewart (5-star center)
  • RaeQuan Battle (4-star shooting guard)
  • Marcus Tsohonis (3-star point guard)
  • Jaden McDaniels (5-star power forward)
  • Quade Green (5-star point guard, mid-season transfer from Kentucky)

That’s on top of returning players including:

  • Naz Carter (averaged 8.1 points in 20 minutes per game)
  • Jamal Bey (came on strong late in the season, earning minutes in a stacked rotation)
  • Hameir Wright (averaged 18 minutes and 1.4 blocks per game)
  • Elijah Hardy (3-star point guard, could see extended playing time until Green arrives)
  • Bryan Penn-Johnson (3-star center, figures to see increased playing time in his second year)
  • Nate Roberts (3-star forward, redshirted as a freshman)
  • Sam Timmins (the only senior who has played extensive minutes on this team, should provide valuable depth at the center position off the bench)

Look, it’s not ideal. Obviously, you like to have as many experienced stars as possible. But, for a team that will largely be playing together for the first time, with every starting role up for grabs (presumably around wherever Naz Carter ends up playing, who should be one of the leaders on this team). But, that incoming class is no joke. Almost all of them should be ready to contribute right away, with one or two of them stepping into some hefty roles. If this team improves as we approach Tournament time, the Huskies could be a real monster.

So, let’s dream a little bit. Let’s say the Huskies come from out of nowhere to make an Elite Eight run! I know Coach Hop just signed an extension, and received a well-deserved raise this past offseason, but if that comes to pass, you REALLY have to wonder how much longer he’ll be classing up the joint.

Indeed, the Huskies don’t even have to make the Sweet 16 for this to be the final year with Mike Hopkins in Washington.

It’s a terrifying thought, and one I don’t really want to dwell on too much, as it’s far too depressing.

Given the way he’s recruited in his short time here, I can already tell Hop is going to be one of the greats. Maybe I’m way off base, with my purple-colored lenses, but that’s just a hunch. The hope, whenever you find someone like this, is that he’ll be the next Mark Few: that he’ll stick around forever, plant his flag for your school, and take you to multiple Final Fours over a multi-decade career. This isn’t like having the SEC in football, you can build a winner ANYWHERE in college basketball! So, why not here? Why couldn’t Washington be the next NCAA powerhouse?

I guess that’s up to him. And the school, to be willing to pay him. And the allure (read: money) ponied up by other schools. You’d like to think it’s easy enough to just pay the man and keep him forever, but if he wants to move on to situations that are perceived to be easier to recruit and win in, then there’s no amount of logical money that could keep him here.

I dunno. I’d be SHOCKED if Coach Hop is still here after another five years. I’d say we have maybe 2-3 years and it’s time to start looking for the next coaching phenom.

Jaylen Nowell Is Going Pro

Since we can’t have really, really nice things, Jaylen Nowell announced he’s going to leave the University of Washington to enter the NBA Draft.

In thinking about what might’ve been, having Nowell around for his Junior season would’ve been absolutely amazing. As we all know, Noah Dickerson, David Crisp, Matisse Thybulle, and Dominic Green were all Seniors and will all be gone next season. That leaves just Naz Carter, Hameir Wright, Sam Timmins, and Jamal Bey left over of the players who didn’t redshirt and who played significant minutes.

That’s just a lot of overall production that’s leaving the team. And, yes, there are some holdovers whose roles will naturally expand. You figure Bryan Penn-Johnson will vie for a starting spot at one of the bigs. Nate Roberts could see some time at the wing. And Elijah Hardy should get some time at the point. But, it would’ve been nice to have Nowell around to help with the transition.

There’s also, obviously, some incoming guys who figure to play right away, including RaeQuan Battle and Isaiah Stewart; with Quade Green transferring from Kentucky to run the point when we hit conference play. But, without many real veteran holdovers, there’s going to be a lot of unknown with the 2019/2020 squad.

Without knowing anything about the redshirts or recruits, I figure this becomes Naz Carter’s team. He’s had two years in the system now and has shown steady improvement both years, at both ends of the floor. I’ll also be looking for big things out of Jamal Bey, who was really the only Freshman to see the floor this past season, and appeared to get better as the season went along.

Given the pedigree of the guys on the roster, I would once again expect the Huskies to contend for a Pac-12 championship and make the NCAA Tournament. But, you never know when there’s this much turnover. It would’ve been a much safer bet if Nowell had stayed for one more year.

I’m on the record as highly doubting Nowell will be a first round pick, but what do I know? I’m no scout. I don’t even really watch the NBA anymore. It just seems to me that he had more he could’ve improved in his game had he stayed. On the flipside, he was already Pac-12 Player of the Year, so how much more did he have to prove?

If we base it on the college career of Isaiah Thomas – who was the final pick in the second round the year he went out – then based on probably his size alone I think Nowell at least gets drafted somewhere in the second round. But, I dunno. I respectfully disagree with the decision, but I also don’t know all the facts surrounding his financial situation. For a kid making no money for his talents in college, I can certainly understand the desire to go out and start earning a living.

The Future Looks Bright For Husky Basketball

Of course, where do you put the emphasis in that sentence? “The Future LOOKS Bright” vs. “The Future Looks BRIGHT” can make all the difference.

The Huskies took care of business against a bad Cal team on Saturday. After a sluggish start – where the Huskies started off shooting 1/14 – we managed to take a 1-point lead at half, as our shooting woes reversed. That lead ballooned out to an eventual 19-point victory, which was just what this team needed as we embark on a tough trip to Oregon this week.

The victory makes us 5-0 in conference, half a game ahead of Arizona, and 14-4 overall. As I wrote about on Friday, if we break up the season into 6-game chunks, the Huskies need to go 3-3, then 5-1, to properly align themselves for an At Large bid. I would honestly settle for going 1-1 the next three weeks, if it’s all the same to you. Anything above and beyond that would be all the better.

But, that’s not the only reason why the future looks bright. Over the weekend, the Huskies got a verbal committment from a 5-star big man (Isaiah Stewart), a guy rated 6th in the country heading into 2019. There’s a lot of good information here, so go read all about it! The Huskies now have a Top 20 recruiting class for next year, and that could very well jump up, depending on where the local kid decides to go. As it is, we’ve got three guys coming in, two in the Top 100 (Stewart and RaeQuan Battle) and another guy in the Top 300 (Marcus Tsohonis). That’s on top of transfer Quade Green, who will be eligible to start halfway into next season (I don’t get how that works; why can’t he just sit out the rest of this year and play from the start next season?).

That’s A LOT of talent coming into the program! Sure, the Big Three (Crisp, Dickerson, Thybulle) will be leaving after this season (maybe the Big Four if Nowell decides to leave early), but could we be talking about a team that might actually improve over whatever this 2018/2019 team does? That’s certainly on the table, if the new guys can gel quickly.

Of course, what’s also on the table is something akin to what we saw out of a lot of those later Romar seasons: Freshman studs playing hero ball, en route to an N.I.T. finish, with our NBA hopefuls sitting out late in the season to preserve their bodies for the Draft.

Look, I just don’t trust 5-star guys around these parts. We’re not Duke, we’re not Kentucky. We generally don’t have sufficient depth to pair with those highly-rated guys to make deep runs in the NCAA Tournament. One & Done players look out for themselves and that’s it. Washington is as good a place as any to showcase one stud’s amazing talent – Markelle Fultz is a testament to that – but we don’t matter on the national scene like those other programs.

I hope I’m proven wrong, and this is the beginning of something huge. I’d like to believe Washington can be a powerhouse, but I’ve been burned so many times before. At this point, I’ll believe it when I actually see it.