The Huskies will discover just how far they’ve come under new coach Mike Hopkins and how far they have to go during Thursday’s 7 p.m. exhibition opener against Division II Saint Martin’s at Alaska Airlines Arena.
The transformation began almost immediately, shortly after Mike Hopkins assumed command of the Washington Huskies men’s basketball team.
In March, the Huskies tabbed him to replace Lorenzo Romar, who had been fired after 15 seasons, and inevitably the new UW coach insisted on doing things his way.
That meant ramping up the intensity in practice and infusing a defensive passion into a team ranked 11th or lower in the Pac-12 in points allowed (81.1 per game – 11th), field-goal percentage (46.6 – 11th) and three-point field-goal percentage (39.9 – 12th) last season.
Hopkins installed the 2-3 zone that he learned during his past 22 years as an Orange assistant and admittedly, the process hasn’t been without challenges.
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“People fight it at first, but that’s because it’s (not) what you’re taught,” junior forward Noah Dickerson said. “You learn habits over time and to break habits it takes a while.”
One of the most common stories in sports is the transition of power, philosophy and personnel from one coach to the next.
The Huskies will discover just how far they’ve come under Hopkins and how far they have to go during Thursday’s 7 p.m. exhibition opener against Division II Saint Martin’s at Alaska Airlines Arena.
More important than a comfortable win — Washington narrowly beat Division II Western Washington 109-103 in last year’s exhibition opener — Hopkins wants to see if the principles he’s been preaching in practice will transfer to a game-like setting.
Last Thursday, UW participated in a private scrimmage against Boise State and Mountain West player of the year candidate Chandler Hutchinson and Hopkins was generally pleased by the performance.
The Huskies, he said, “did a really good job of really being active,” and within the zone “guys anticipated and adapted well and caused a lot of problems.”
The matchup against Saint Martin’s, which returns two starters and was picked sixth in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference coaches preseason poll, is Washington’s final dress rehearsal before the Nov. 10 regular-season opener against Belmont.
It’s also the first glimpse for UW fans of the Hopkins-led Huskies. (The game will not be broadcast on television or radio.)
“We’re working on the timing, the organization, the schematics and the schemes — those types of things,” Hopkins said. “I can be a little fiery, but right now it’s more so to give these guys confidence, getting them to believe, instilling our culture and what we expect on the court.”
Ideally, the Huskies want to hold teams under 40 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent on three-pointers. There’s also an emphasis to improve last season’s plus-2.1 rebounding margin that ranked seventh in the Pac-12.
“I’m not worried about the offense,” Dickerson said. “I know for a fact that everybody on the team can score. But our main problem in the past was defense. At this point, that’s all I care about — us defending and us rebounding.”
Hopkins is also intent on improving UW’s free-throw shooting percentage, which was last in the Pac-12 at 65.4 percent last season.
The Huskies return three starters in junior guards David Crisp (13.8 points per game) and Matisse Thybulle (10.5 points) and Dickerson (12.5 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds) from a team that finished 9-22 and was 11th (2-16) in the Pac-12 in 2016-17.
Washington, which was picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, added four scholarship newcomers, including former Garfield High star Jaylen Nowell, a four-star recruit.
Hopkins said the starting lineup is fluid and has identified six to seven players who could start. Typically, he favors eight to nine players in the rotation.
“I think we’re ready,” Dickerson said. “I really do. And I can’t wait because we came so far from last year. We’re nothing like last year. It’s time to go out and prove it.”