COLUMBUS, Ohio — Energetic. Passionate. Insightful. Inspiring.
These are all accurate adjectives if you’re trying to describe Huskies men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins.
But so are bizarre, goofy and downright nuts.
Friday, in the middle of the biggest game of his coaching career, Hopkins shouted “eeny meeny miny mo!” while selecting candy from the scorer’s table. But anybody who’s been around the second-year coach for more than an hour knows that that’s just Hop being Hop.
Still, as the Huskies get set to take on No. 1 seed North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA tournament Sunday, I had to ask them: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen Hopkins do?
Senior guard Matisse Thybulle: “One time during a timeout, I think we had just given up a lot of points and the other team was coming back and we were kind of panicking, he was sitting there with the whiteboard. We thought he was going to cuss us out, but then he starts drawing on the whiteboard and we’re like, ‘That doesn’t look like a play.’ So he draws it up and turns it to us — and he just drew a smiley face. He just sat there and looked at us with that smiley face. We were like, ‘He lost it. We just lost coach Hop.’ “
Senior guard David Crisp: “He’s crazy. We were watching film (on Utah State), and he said, ‘We’re going to prepare in silence. Let everybody on the outside talk; we’re just going to put our work in.’ Then he picks up this huge garbage can, this huge dumpster and starts carrying it with both arms. And as we’re watching film, he’s like, ‘Put more into the bomb. Put more into the bomb. Getting extra shots? Let’s put more into the bomb.’ “
What were you putting in there?
“He wasn’t putting anything in there. It was metaphorical. He’s like, ‘Extra shots. Extra film. Togetherness.’ Then he goes and sets it down and he says, ‘When the ball tips off, we’re going to let the bomb off.’ It was just crazy. He was talking all serious holding this big dumpster like it was normal.”
Junior forward Sam Timmins: “He gave me a kiss on the forehead one time. It was after a film session. He was getting real hyped about the game we had coming up. So what he does is he’ll talk to us and give us a speech, and then he’ll walk away and play us the video, and we’ll watch. And then he goes, ‘Rah rah rah and rah!” And then he walks away goes, ‘Come here, Sam!’ And just grabs my head and gives me a kiss on the forehead. If it was anyone else, you’d probably be surprised. But with coach Hop, it’s kind of like it’s your fault if you’re surprised by anything he does.”
One day, while encouraging his players to not “eat the cheese” — a metaphor for not giving into any hype — Hopkins laid a bunch of mouse traps on the locker-room floor. He has mused that he might do a snow angel during a game sometime, and it’s well-documented that he can break out a set of pushups at any given moment, including the middle of the team banquet.
He’ll kick basketballs out of joy during practice. He’ll pass basketballs at reporters during a news conference. He randomly challenged me to a game of thumb war Friday.
But he might be most famous for his greetings, because if he hasn’t seen you for a while, he’ll go full golden retriever.
Sophomore forward Nahziah Carter said that when Hopkins met him at the airport during his recruiting visit, he straight up jumped into his lap.
During freshman guard Jamal Bey’s visit, Hopkins sprint toward him, wrapped his arms around him and lifted him in the air.
Bey wasn’t sure what to think at first. Then something occurred to him.
“This man is crazy,” he said, “but I love him.”
If you play for Hopkins, he’s going to push you and ride you if necessary, but he’ll never let you forget that basketball is supposed to be fun. And once he considers you family, he isn’t going to skimp on the affection.
Sophomore forward Hameir Wright remembers Hopkins spotting him at the airport once and running toward him for a good two minutes. He was practically bumping people out of the way to get to Wright, and once he did, he tackled him to the ground.
Did you think that was weird?
“No,” said Wright. “I’ve known Hop since I was a freshman in high school. If he just walked up to me and shook my hand that would have been weird.”