The Washington Huskies have a new coach and a new mindset headed into 2017-2018. Under the defensive-minded Mike Hopkins, can they contend in a loaded Pac-12?
The Washington Huskies were bad last season despite featuring the future number-one pick in the NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz.* Head coach Lorenzo Romar had the recruits, but his teams didn’t seem to have the edge they’ve had in years past in recent seasons.
Even under the tutelage of tough-as-nails former Washington Huskies’ guard Will Conroy, Fultz and his teammates never seemed to gel and fight when the game was on the line. Romar never seemed to teach his team defense last year, which led to close and not-so-close losses to better disciplined teams like Oregon and Utah.
Fultz gave the Washington Huskies the star power to match up with teams like UCLA last season, but they couldn’t keep up with Ben Howland’s crew and most of their opponents in the Pac-12.
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Romar had a batch of recruits ready and waiting to join him in Montlake, including the Porter brothers, heroes of possibly the best basketball team ever in the great basketball city of Seattle. Michael Jr., the top high school recruit in the nation, was signed on to join Romar as a freshman this season, with his younger brother Jontay to follow.
But Romar’s 2016-2017 season as the Washington Huskies coach was so disappointing that he was canned. The Porter brothers vanished.
In their place came Mike Hopkins, a longtime assistant of the great Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, with his own system and his own recruits. Even though his recruiting record so far may be uneven with gaps, bringing in four-star recruit Hameir Wright, a small forward who won the New York State Gatorade Player of the Year Award last season, doesn’t hurt the Huskies’ chances in 2017-2018.
Hopkins also managed to lure away Ed Chang from his home state of Nebraska, where he was the state’s top high school recruit after leading his Papillion-La Vista Monarchs to a State Championship Game appearance. He’s considered another four-star recruit.
Hopkins and the Washington Huskies still have some work to do to rebuild their program going through a fast transition. But if Hopkins can use the prodigal assistant coach Cameron Dollar to recruit in the basketball hotbed that is Seattle, perhaps the Huskies will be more contentious than we think in 2018.
*Interestingly, the Huskies had the top pick in the NBA and the WNBA Drafts this year for the first time ever.