Mike Hopkins has plenty of questions about the Washington men’s basketball team and expects to get a little clarity after Thursday night’s exhibition opener at Alaska Airlines Arena.

Before facing Western Washington – a high-scoring, senior-laden Division II powerhouse picked to win the Great Northwest Athletic Conference – the UW coach admitted there’s a fair amount of uncertainty surrounding the young and inexperienced Huskies, who return just three players who had a significant role last season.

How does Washington replace departed stars Jaylen Nowell and Matisse Thybulle, the Pac-12’s Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year respectively?

Will freshman forward Isaiah Stewart, a projected lottery pick in next year’s NBA draft, live up to the hype?

Can the Huskies defend like they did last season when they ranked second in the conference while allowing just 64.8 points per game?

And what’s the deal with prized freshman Jaden McDaniels, who sat out of Sunday’s closed-door scrimmage at TCU due to undisclosed reasons?


Admittedly, Hopkins doesn’t have a lot of answers right now, but he did clear up the situation regarding McDaniels.

“You’ll see him (Thursday) night,” Hopkins said. “Yeah, we’re excited.

“… He’s had a lot of practices with us. It’s just more so the experience of getting college-level games. He’s an exceptionally talented player. He’s coachable. He learns quickly and I can’t wait to get him on the court.”

Five months after the five-star Federal Way recruit decided to join forces with Stewart, Husky fans will finally get a chance to see what’s been heralded one of the greatest pairing of UW front court performers.

Still, it’s unclear who will start for the Huskies as Hopkins looks to formulate a rotation that includes seven players who are 6-foot-9 or taller.

“There’s a lot of competition going on in terms of minutes,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of good players and we’ve got a lot of different lineups so there’ll be a lot trying new things and seeing what we can do. Obviously, we always play to win regardless of what the situation is, but we want to give some kids an opportunity to go out there and show me what they can do.


“There are some position battles. I think it goes back to who are the first guys off the bench? How are we going to play them? The fun thing about this team is there’s so many options.”

Unlike last season’s team, which included four seniors who led UW to a Pac-12 regular-season title and a 27-9 finish in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Hopkins understands he has to be patient and forgiving with his young team that includes 10 underclassmen.

Still, turnovers have been an issue during training camp and players who make the fewest miscues have a greater chance of playing.

“There’s a lot of growing pains that you have,” he said. “We have exceptional talent, but everybody can’t make two turnovers. If everybody has two turnovers, then you have 40 turnovers with our roster. It’s just learning that everything matters — offensive execution and understanding a new defense.

“There’s going to be mistakes here and there, but these kids have done a really good job of working at it, studying it and watching film. That’s what these games are for, to see how they can go out and execute the game plan.”

Junior guard Nahziah Carter, sophomore point guard Elijah Hardy and Stewart are expected to start Thursday. McDaniels, sophomore guard Jamal Bey or senior forward Sam Timmins are in contention to fill out the five-man lineup.


Meanwhile, Hopkins is still determining the pecking order among the reserves and those position battles could determine if anyone redshirts this season.

“I think the toughest thing with this year is 10, 11 and 12 could be as good as 7, 8 and 9 in a lot of different ways and scenarios where they can impact winning,” he said. “That’s where you’ve got to make sure those guys are ready. … I think you could see something like (redshirting) happening.

“I don’t know who yet. But we’ll know a little bit more tomorrow probably.”

Washington opens the regular season Nov. 8 against Baylor in the Armed Forces Classic in Anchorage, Alaska.