Two weeks ago, we speculated about the state of the Washington men’s basketball team after the Huskies landed Federal Way High standout Jaden McDaniels to play alongside fellow five-star prospect Isaiah Stewart.
The buzz on Montlake continues to grow even though UW lost sophomore star Jaylen Nowell, reigning Pac-12 MVP, to the NBA draft.
In a USA Today poll asking which team will win the Pac-12, Washington was the No. 1 choice among 51 percent of the respondents who predict the defending conference champion will win it all again.
Arizona was next on the survey at 19 percent followed by USC (13 percent), Arizona State (9 percent) and Oregon (7 percent).
Recently, we caught up with coach Mike Hopkins, who chimed in on the hoopla surrounding the Huskies.
Why all the fuss over these two kids (McDaniels and Stewart)?
“Anytime you get players when they talk about ratings – and ratings don’t really mean anything – but you’re talking about two top-10 players in the United States of America. Both incredible talents, but they’re both incredible people. They fit what we’re doing. It also doesn’t take away from Marcus Tsohonis and RaeQuan Battle, who we believe are as good as anybody in the country as well. It’s all about the right fit. It’s about the right people that we’re bringing in. I think because of their ranking and who we were competing against, I think that excites a lot of people.”
Are the Huskies better than they were last season?
“You never play games on paper. On paper people would say this is what you have, but I do believe great teams have incredible chemistry. They’ve got incredible veterans and they’ve got incredible leadership. Like young teams, I think our talent is incredible, but there’s some challenges ahead. Things like getting into the offense, getting our offensive sets, buying in and playing for something greater than yourself. We believe these are the right guys to do that so I think the potential of this team is limitless.”
What’s the starting lineup?
“Oh my gosh. How about this, the starting lineup is Mike Hopkins at the point. No change that, Will Conroy at the point. Cameron Dollar at the 2, Mike Hopkins at the 3, Dave Rice at the 4 and Jerry Hobbie at the 5.
You’re not winning too many games with that lineup.
“C’mon, Percy! [Laughter] I will tell you that our team will have – last year I used to say we had eight starters that could start for teams in our league. Dom Green had started and we won. Naz Carter started and we won. Sam Timmins had started and we won a lot of games the (previous) year. It goes back to the same thing, we might have even more depth like that in terms of talent than we had the previous year.”
Can Washington win with one-and-done stars?
“Yes. It’s been proven. At Syracuse we won with Carmelo Anthony. Obviously, there’s Duke. I think the biggest message here from me is our message is we don’t live in the one-and-done model. That’s not what we do. We work in the model of getting the right players that fit our system and our system is built on development and a sustainable model to win over time. Fortunately, in our case these two guys (Stewart and McDaniels) have the potential, but we had recruited multiple guys at my previous school Syracuse that weren’t supposedly one-and-done guys like Tyler Ennis, Malachi Richardson, Tyler Lydon. At the end of the day, our thing is about development, getting these guys to become professional people on and off the court, winning games and helping their dreams come true. If that’s one year, two, three, four and for some people it’s a redshirt and it might be five. But at the end of the day, it’s unpredictable. But we’re built on a system of right fits and the right character.”
Is it possible to fast forward to the 2019-20 season?
“Life is too short. I don’t want to fast forward. I want to enjoy every day. I can’t wait to get these guys all on campus and work toward our goals and dreams.”