His excitement level may be the same, but Mike Hopkins is a little more measured and far less demonstrative heading into his fifth season as the Washington men’s basketball coach than he was back in 2017 when performed a set of pushups at the first news conference of the season. 

“The only difference, I could do more five years ago,” said the 52-year-old Hopkins, who rolled out of his seat and banged out a few pushups Wednesday afternoon, which got a room full of media and UW staffers chuckling. 

Still, consecutive losing seasons, including a 5-21 record last season, has UW fans asking if Hopkins is the right guy to lead the team, which is a dramatic reversal for the two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year winner who led the Huskies to the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2019. 

“You learn more through the struggle for sure,” he said. “You realize it’s just basketball and you’re trying to teach these kids how to be successful on and off the court. You have a standard and you got to hold that standard. It’s the most important thing and that culture. I learned a lot.  

Q&A: Quincy Pondexter ready to help revive UW men’s basketball program in his first season as an assistant coach

“I’ll tell you one thing, when you get a group of guys and a staff that are going in the same direction. That love to work. That love to represent this university, take a lot of pride when they go out on that court and you have a togetherness — that tougher together piece — you can do anything. You can accomplish anything. As the leader, I got to hold that standard and hold it tight and do anything I can to keep it there.” 

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Hopkins didn’t go into great detail, but during his first news conference with Seattle media this season, he admitted the Huskies lost far more than 21 games last season, which largely explains a transformative offseason that included eight players leaving the team and seven newcomers. 

Washington also added two new assistants Quincy Pondexter, the former UW star, and Wyking Jones, who coached at California. 

“The standard has been reset and reset in a good way,” Hopkins said. 

Maybe so. Certainly, the Huskies will look vastly different for Thursday’s 7 p.m. exhibition opener against Central Washington at Alaska Airlines Arena than they did last season, which ended with four consecutive losses. 

Hopkins has settled on starters that he hopes to keep in place for the foreseeable future but declined to announce the lineup.  

Guard Jamal Bey and forward Nate Roberts, UW’s returning starters and co-captains, are expected start alongside guards Terrell Brown Jr., Daejon Davis and forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. 

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Guards Cole Bajema and PJ Fuller, forwards Langston Wilson and Jackson Grant and center Riley Sorn will likely contend for minutes among the reserves. 

Hopkins prefers an eight-man rotation, but is considering distributing playing time among 10 players. UW will playing his trademark 2-3 zone but is experimenting with a man-to-man defense and full-court press. 

“You’re going to see a team that really plays for each other,” Hopkins said. “I think you’re going to see a team that’s all about effort and heart. You’re going to see a team that alumni, people in the community and our fans can really connect with and be proud of. That’s what it’s all about. Our guys take a lot of pride in who they represent. They take a lot of pride in the school and city and where they come from. I know the guys that were on the team last year have something to prove.” 

Only four scholarship players returned from a disastrous 2020-21 season that produced the second-worst winning percentage (.192) in UW history. 

Roberts, who admittedly considered transferring, said last season’s struggles — as well as the influx of newcomers — has forged the personality of the 2021-22 Huskies. 

“Just being a team that’s going to battle through adversity and not fold and not bend because things aren’t going our way,” he said when asked what’s UW identity. “We’re going to find ways to win and find ways to stay together. You see what you really have when things don’t go your way. That’s what we’re striving to be and working day to day to be like that.” 

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It remains to be seen how all the changes at UW fix a defense that ranked last in the Pac-12 in points allowed (77.4) and an offense that was 11th in the league while averaging 67.7 points per game. 

Due to the uncertainties, the Huskies were picked 11th in the Pac-12 preseason media poll. 

“It doesn’t matter about preseason rankings,” Hopkins said. “We’re worried about postseason rankings. Where are we at the end of the year. Some guy had us 13th in a league of 12. I’ve never seen that before. That’s good. We talk about grit and having a chip on your shoulder, we got a bunch of guys like that and that’s really exciting.” 

Hopkins, who is in the third year of a six-year, $17.5 million deal, may also be coaching for his job. After this season, he’s guaranteed $9.3 million on a deal that expires in 2025. 

The embattled coach likens this group of Huskies to his Montlake arrival when he took over a team that was 9-22 the previous season and posted records of 21-13 and 27-9 respectively the next two years. 

“It’s so exciting,” Hopkins said. “Coaching anything is just really exciting because you got a group of guys and the newness is good too. You want to go out with guys that you can depend on. You want to go out with guys with a like mindset. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not where you start it’s where you finish.  

“I remember our first year when we played Virginia Tech and we were teaching them and we lose by 36. It was like a firestorm and had to fly back from New York. We get back thinking the world is going to end and two weeks later we knocked off Kansas. That’s the thing about coaching, it’s a process. When you got guys that have experience, they have a tendency to have a higher learnability. It’s just exciting. That’s why you do it. You do it to see what you can pull out of these guys. So I can’t wait to get started tomorrow night and get to that first step.”