At some point during the upcoming spring and summer months, Mike Hopkins will take a deep dive and review everything that went right – and mostly wrong – this season.
The third-year Washington Huskies men’s basketball coach is constantly critiquing and evaluating himself, but these days he can’t afford to get too reflective with two regular-season games remaining, including Thursday’s 6 p.m. matchup at Arizona State.
However, Hopkins offered a brutally honest assessment of his performance in light of Washington’s 13-16 record and last-place showing in the Pac-12 at 3-13.
“I think I’m a coach in the works, a coach in progress just like everybody,” he said. “I’m just trying to be the best I can. Not perfect.
“I’ve made bad decisions. Good decisions. I’m a work in progress. I take pride in that. Just want to be a life learner and keep betting better. Bottom line.”
Hopkins, who won the Pac-12 Coach of the Year award the past two seasons, hasn’t forgotten how to coach.
Still, Washington’s dramatic fall from Pac-12 regular-season champion to last in the league – the first team in the 52-year history of the conference to go from first to last in the standings in successive seasons – has taught him some hard lessons.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself,” he said. “I think the biggest thing is experience matters. That’s a big thing. It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you don’t play together as a team, and I think that’s where inexperience and youth (shows itself) – that’s the process of building and molding over time, obviously.”
The 50-year-old Hopkins enjoyed his greatest success last season while compiling a 27-9 record with a veteran lineup that included four seniors who collectively logged more than 500 games.
In addition, Hopkins had the luxury of turning to Pac-12 Player of the Year Jaylen Nowell, an uber-talented sophomore who started 68 games, to close out tight contests.
“When you coach experienced guys, you might not run a play for a month then call the play and they’re like, oh yeah,” Hopkins said. “That goes back to rushing the process. You got to be able to slow down. It’s not what you know, it’s what you can get them to know.”
The Huskies returned just one starter from last season and Hopkins went all-in on a highly touted recruiting class ranked among the top 10 nationally that included prized prospects Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels.
In many ways, the standout freshman forwards delivered on their promise considering they rank first or second on the team in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.
Stewart, who averages 16.7 points, 8.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks, is one of the top 10 finalists for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award even though he’s been rather muted in the past eight games.
Meanwhile, McDaniels is surging since coming off the bench in seven of the past nine games. He averages 12.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.4 blocks, but also a Pac-12-leading 3.3 turnovers.
And yet, Hopkins bemoans the growing pains of a team in which three of its top active scorers are freshmen, including Marcus Tsohonis, who averages 7.0 points and took over the point-guard duties from sophomore Quade Green (academically ineligible).
“I was getting frustrated early in the year when we were winning before the Quade (suspension) just because you can’t rush the process with youth,” Hopkins said.
The ever-optimistic Hopkins isn’t giving up on this season and believes there’s enough talent on the team and time for the Huskies to turn their season around.
Snapping Washington’s seven-game road losing streak and getting a win at Arizona State (19-10, 10-6) would be a positive sign for the Huskies ahead of Saturday’s regular-season finale at Arizona and next week’s Pac-12 tournament.
Last month, UW surrendered a season high in points during an 87-83 loss to ASU.
“It takes a little bit of a spark,” Hopkins said. “Unfortunately, we had a lot of opportunities to get that spark. We haven’t.
“But at any time we can get some momentum going in the right direction. And that’s when the magic happens.”
— Hopkins said the Huskies are taking precautions to stay safe amid the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
“We got a text message from our trainer and he had mentioned that if anyone had any of the symptoms – fever, cough – not going on the trip,” he said. “You’ve got to be careful and stuff is changing so rapidly with new information that we’re just doing what we’re being told by the university.”