Heading into the Wooden Legacy, the Washington men’s basketball team is 3-1 before the 6:30 p.m. Wednesday game against Fresno State (1-3). The Huskies are hoping to capture their first nonconference tournament title since winning this event in 2014 to soothe the sting from last week’s embarrassing 73-64 loss at home to Cal Baptist. 

Once again, coach Mike Hopkins is hounded by criticism from a skeptical UW fan base frustrated by another early-season mishap and a three-year NCAA tournament drought. 

In many ways, the Huskies are still recovering after losing four starters from their 2019 NCAA tournament team, which represents the heyday of the Hopkins era and the point to which many of the team’s recent troubles can be traced. 

That 2018-19 team won 27 games while producing a pair of stars in Jaylen Nowell, who won the Pac-12 Player of the Year award as a sophomore, and Matisse Thybulle, who captured Naismith Defensive Player of the Year honors. 

Following their departures along with starters Noah Dickerson, David Crisp and standout backup guard Dominic Green, the Huskies have never been the same. 

The Isaiah Stewart-Jaden McDaniels pairing in 2019-20 got off to a roaring 10-2 start before a disappointing 15-17 finish, considering the one-and-done standouts were taken in the first round of the NBA draft. 

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Since then, the Huskies have used transfer portal castoffs to patch together a roster with mixed results.  

In 2020, UW brought in four transfers, but Erik Stevenson, Nate Pryor and J’Raan Brooks spent just one season at UW, and the Huskies bottomed out to a 5-21 mess that put Hopkins’ job in jeopardy. 

The next year, the Huskies returned to the portal once again and nabbed five newcomers, including hometown hero Terrell Brown Jr., who led the Pac-12 in scoring last season and proved pivotal in a surprising revamp that culminated in a 17-15 record. 

Unfortunately for UW, four starters left the team and Hopkins replaced them with — you guessed it — four transfers, who highlight seven newcomers. 

Few programs have used the transfer portal more than Washington, which has been both a blessing and curse for the Huskies. 

“Recruiting is recruiting, but the thing about the transfer portal is you can get old quick,” Hopkins said. “You can get experience.”  

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“You’re looking for balance. You can fill a hole. Gonzaga, Baylor and Houston have done that. … When you have a player that was maybe highly recruited, they’ve already been through it. They know what they want now. Maybe they got the okey-doke at this school or it didn’t work out and they’re very specific.” 

According to verbalcommits.com, there were 1,768 Division I transfers in 2022, which is a 306% increase from 2012 when 578 players switched schools. 

“Look, this isn’t slowing down,” Hopkins said. “I don’t know if we or any team can get old like we did in [2018-19] when you had four of your core guys play more than 100 games together. Believe me, I would love for that to happen, but there’s movement in our game like never before. 

“And you have to embrace that. … We’re learning how to get better with it. Last year, we had that 5-5 start. So how do we speed up the process? We scrimmaged after two weeks [in training camp] rather than three just to get some intel about our team. We did our life skills stuff a lot earlier. We did a team bowling outing. You want them connecting in the locker room. The off-the-court stuff is just as essential if not more to building chemistry than what you do in practice or games.” 

Touted forward Keion Brooks Jr., who spent the previous three years at Kentucky, credits a quick bond with UW teammates for his early success. 

“We did some things where we kind of got personal and shared some stuff with each other and I thought that was really cool,” said Brooks, who missed two games due to a leg injury and averages 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. “Got to [walk] in somebody else’s shoes a little bit. I really thought that made us closer and more connected. It’s a lot easier to go out there and fight with someone when you know what they’re fighting for. I thought that experience that we had was really dope. 

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“I shared my journey and how I got here. I shared some of my insecurities that I’ve never told anyone. I thought it was a good opportunity to open up to some new guys. They listened and they’ve been helping me through that the whole time. The other guys shared some stuff. I don’t take that lightly. I respect them for sharing that with me and being able to come to work every day and understand what we got as far as a common goal.” 

For the second straight year, Washington rolls out a lineup with four new starters, which partly explains why the Huskies have faltered in early-season matchups. 

“No doubt we’ve had a lot of turnover and from my experience, the biggest thing is trying to get close with everyone,” said guard Jamal Bey, a fifth-year graduate student and four-year starter. “You want to build that trust as quickly as you can so that when things go wrong out there on the court, you there’s somebody there to pick you up and you don’t hang your head. 

“We have a veteran team and we have experience, but a lot of us don’t have experience playing with each other and that’s what we’re working on.”