Hopkins is certainly comfortable being himself. He’s comfortable geeking out on Star Wars one minute, rocking out to Pearl Jam the next, then discussing rappers with his players. He says he’s 48 going on 18.
A couple weeks ago, I was in a Ballard restaurant talking sports with the bartender. To my right was a man sitting alone who hadn’t said a word for 20 minutes.
The conversation veered toward Huskies basketball, and how Mike Hopkins seems to have transformed the program overnight. The man to my right suddenly chimed in.
“I heard that guy’s crazy.”
Yeah, but isn’t it great?
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What other coach around here will open up a post-practice news conference by quoting “Braveheart” and yelling “freeeeeeedooooooommmmmm!!!”? Who else gives the ball back to the referee in jump-shot form?
Pete Carroll and Chris Petersen are the two most famous coaches in Seattle — but Hopkins may be the most endearing.
Huskies forward Matisse Thybulle remembers one of the first practices of the season, when Hopkins was emphasizing the importance of staying low in a defensive stance. To illustrate the point, he had Thybulle get in a stance — then tried to tackle him from several angles.
Fellow forward Dominic Green recalls a practice when Hopkins — in the middle of telling the team what it was going to work on next — paused and said “I gotta do some pushups.” He proceeded to do 10 of them.
“We were just sitting there like, ‘whaaaat?’” Green said.
These stories are going to keep flooding in as long as Hopkins is at Washington. And based on what the Huskies (15-6, 5-3 in conference) have done so far, folks around here hope that’s a long time.
Very few would have guessed that UW would be in third place in the Pac-12 going into February (it was picked 10th by the media). And nobody would have guessed it would beat No. 7 Kansas (No. 2 at the time) in Kansas City.
With virtually the same roster as last year’s nine-win team, Hopkins is proving college coaching is a lot more than just recruiting and rolling the ball out. He’s defying the odds … all the while being odd.
During Hopkins’ news conference Wednesday, I brought up Thybulle’s tackling story and Green’s pushup story. I then asked how he’d describe a coach like that if he were still playing.
“I’ve never seen (Syracuse coach) Jim Boeheim do 10 pushups,” said Hopkins, who was an assistant to Boeheim before coming to Washington. “The greatest advice I’ve ever gotten was, you know, you gotta be you.”
Hopkins is certainly comfortable being himself. He’s comfortable geeking out on Star Wars one minute, rocking out to Pearl Jam the next, then discussing rappers such as Future and Meek Mill with his players. He says he’s 48 going on 18 and, really, just wants to have fun.
Another reporter asked if he has ever considered a more conventional approach to coaching — a style in which he suppresses some of his quirks.
The short answer: no: Here’s a longer answer.
“You might see me do like — in Syracuse they do like a snow angel — you might see me on the court doing like a basketball angel during a game. And you’re like ‘oh my gosh is a head coach supposed to do that?’ ” Hopkins said. “I don’t know. It’s just what I feel in the moment. It’s who I am, and I hope you like it.”
Oh, we like it. And we’ll really like it when he actually does that basketball angel. But it’s not just the silliness that makes Hopkins appealing — it’s the sincerity, too.
After the Huskies sold out Hec Ed for the first time all season Sunday, Hopkins thanked the fans via a full-page ad in The Seattle Times. In it he wrote “our crowd … what can you say? I got chills a couple times just going. … I’ve got a wave — a tsunami. They got our back.”
The Huskies are hoping for another sellout, against Arizona State on Thursday, but it might be tough with an 8 p.m. tipoff. There’s a much better chance they’ll get one Saturday night vs. Arizona, especially if they knock off the Sun Devils.
And if that happens, 10,000 fans will see one of the country’s most passionate coaches using every morsel of energy he has. They will also see one of the country’s most surprising teams in the Huskies.
Washington ended last season by losing 13 games in a row. This year’s team could crack the top 25 if they sweep this homestand.
Out of nowhere, this not-so-normal coach has reshaped the Huskies and gotten people wondering if they’ll make the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years.
Now that’s crazy.