The pair are youthful and successful coaches in the Pac-12 — both with fiery wills to win. Both learned from coaching legends. Hurley had Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Hopkins studied under Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
Two of the hottest young coaches in college basketball square off for the first time this week in a game that could be a preview of the rising powers in the Pac-12.
Washington’s Mike Hopkins, 47, and Arizona State’s Bobby Hurley, 46, are two of the three youngest coaches in the conference, guiding teams that are making improbable runs toward the NCAA tournament.
“That team is an extension of him,” Hopkins said when asked about Hurley and the Sun Devils. “They’ve got terrific guards. Four of them. … And we all know, coach Hurley was one of the best guards in college basketball.
“They’ve taken on his characteristic. A gritty team. Undersized a bit like we are. Won’t back down. And he’s had some time to put in his system, and you can see it’s working well for them.”
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In his third year, Hurley was the toast of the college basketball world last month when ASU started 12-0 and rose to No. 3 in The Associated Press rankings.
Since then, the Sun Devils have stumbled to a 4-5 record against Pac-12 opponents. Still, they enter Thursday’s 8 p.m. game at Alaska Airlines Arena ranked No. 25 at 16-5 and still in the thick of most NCAA tournament projections.
“We’ve had to focus on getting better in some areas on defense because teams have been reluctant to go up and down the floor with us and play a wide-open game,” Hurley said. “It’s been a lot more possession-oriented in conference play, and we’ve also faced a lot more zone defense.
“We haven’t shot it quite as well, and that’s affected our offensive numbers some.”
The average margin of defeat in ASU’s five Pac-12 losses is 6.6 points, including a pair of overtime defeats.
“We’ve had chances (to win), we just haven’t really closed games as well as we needed to,” Hurley added.
Meanwhile, Hopkins is being lauded for quickly revamping a UW team that won nine games last season and guiding the Huskies (15-6, 5-3) to a virtual third-place tie in the Pac-12 standings.
Hurley understands and appreciates what Hopkins has done in such a short time considering he performed a similar task at Buffalo, where he posted a 42-20 record during his first two years as a head coach.
The ties binding Hopkins and Hurley reach back three decades.
They started their collegiate careers at the same time. They’re former guards who played at two of the most storied programs in college basketball and learned from pillars in the sport who are Nos. 1 and 2 on the most wins list in men’s college basketball. Hurley had Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, whereas Hopkins received tutelage from Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim.
They were prized pupils who drew favor from their mentors and basketball-crazed fan bases due to their distinct personalities.
Hurley, the consummate winner, was a fiery and passionate prep All-American from Jersey City, N.J., who played in three Final Fours, won two national championships and claimed the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award as a junior.
Meanwhile, Hopkins, a hard-nosed overachiever from Orange County, Calif., rose in the ranks from a redshirt freshman to a two-year starter and team captain who then spent 22 years as an assistant.
“He’s more than paid his dues in terms of getting himself ready for this opportunity,” Hurley said. “He’s already off to a fast start, and I’m really happy for him.”
Thursday’s game will be the first time Hopkins and Hurley will share a court as competitors since their freshman season in 1989.
“I redshirted that year, but if I remember correctly, Bobby had a nice game,” Hopkins said, recalling an ACC/Big East Challenge matchup between then-No. 1 Syracuse and No. 6 Duke.
Hurley finished with 10 assists, four points and two steals to offset six turnovers in 33 minutes. However, Syracuse won 78-76.
“I got to know Bobby’s brother Dan (who coached at Saint Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey) and obviously their father is a legend. I just love the Hurley family. (Bob Sr.) helped me a lot in my career. Whenever I had questions or asked about the game, he’s the kind of guy that you bought all of his videos and went to all of his clinics and practices.
“Their name where we’re from on the East Coast is just so infamous for the best basketball. And they’re great people. They’re competitors to the death. Great people. Great coaches. Great family.”
When asked about Hopkins, Hurley said he remembers the game when the former Syracuse guard played with a bloody face.
“He’s a tough dude,” Hurley said. “Got an elbow to the head and still kept playing. That’s my kind of guy. I like Mike a lot.”
Percy Allen’s Pac-12 power rankings
|1. Arizona (18-4, 8-1)||Feels like we’re not paying enough attention to junior guard Allonzo Trier, the Pac-12’s leading scorer (19.7 ppg) on the league’s best team.||At WSU|
|2. USC (17-6, 8-2)||Best start in league play since 2002. Next three games (at UCLA, ASU and Arizona) will determine if Trojans will catch Wildcats in Pac-12 race.||At UCLA|
|3. Utah (13-8, 5-5)||How many teams can bring a 19-point scorer off the bench? Junior guard Sedrick Barefield has scored 26, 17 and 14 points in past three games as a reserve.||At Colorado|
|4. Washington (15-6, 5-3)||Coach Mike Hopkins said he got “chills” during first Alaska Airlines Arena sellout. Huskies anticipating more big crowds this week to greet No. 25 ASU and No. 9 Arizona.||ASU|
|5. UCLA (15-7, 6-4)||Bruins have MVP candidate Aaron Holiday, solid big man Thomas Welsh and promising freshmen Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, but they’re in danger of missing NCAA tourney for second time in three years.||USC|
|6. Arizona St. (16-5, 4-5)||Haven’t won consecutive games since Dec. 22. If Sun Devils don’t finish better than .500 in Pac-12, they could fall on the wrong side of the NCAA tourney bubble.||At UW|
|7. Stanford (11-11, 5-4)||Precipitous fall in the rankings for the Cardinal (No. 2 last week). With games at home this week, Stanford will need to regroup to stop three-game losing streak and regain momentum.||Oregon St.|
|8. Oregon (14-7, 4-4)||Second-leading scorer Elijah Brown (13.2 ppg.) has made 39 straight FTs in past 15 games. He’s made 50 of 52 this season and his 96.3 FT shooting percentage would be No. 1 in the nation if he had enough makes to qualify.||At Cal|
|9. Colorado (12-10, 4-6)||Since Tad Boyle’s “separation game” comments, the Buffs have dropped three games. Standout freshman guard McKinley Wright IV hit the nadir last Saturday at ASU and finished with season-low 2 points on 1-for-10 shooting.||Utah|
|10. Oregon St. (11-9, 3-5)||Tres Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr. — 2nd and 3rd in Pac-12 in minutes played — are slumping and could be wearing down after carrying so much of the load.||At Stanford|
|11. Washington St. (9-11, 1-7)||Cougs must answer this question if we’re to take them seriously: When the 3-point shots aren’t falling, what’s Plan B?||Arizona|
|12. California (7-15, 1-8)||First 8-game losing streak since 1991-92. If the Golden Bears don’t win another game, this will be their worst season since going 8-19 in 1979-80.||Oregon|