Former Washington coach Lorenzo Romar was largely credited with an affable personality for bringing in highly ranked recruits from California, and promoted a brand of basketball largely dependent on that kind of personality. Unfortunately, this brand didn’t translate into as many NCAA tournament appearances or PAC-12 championships as the athletic department wanted. The coaching style largely depended on familiar big-time Husky players to take over games and lead teams into the postseason. Unless the likes of Isaiah Thomas or Brandon Roy mightily willed the Huskies into tournaments, seasons were lost. This is slightly disappointing because Romar was really good at recruiting and was liked by many fans. These same fans however, should be ecstatic about their new coach Mike Hopkins.
The hiring of former Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins by the UW signified a push towards a traditional style of basketball, not just on the court but via recruiting front as well. Fans shouldn’t expect results quickly, but the signs are evident that major improvement is coming, and it starts with this coaching staff.
Will Conroy and Cameron Dollar are being retained as assistant coaches. Their ties to the local communities is paramount to the success of luring local high school basketball standouts down the Husky pipeline. Conroy has been on the Husky bench since 2015, and is also a decorated Husky player. Having also played locally on the high school level, his retention signifies Hopkins’ desire to maintain stability on the bench and the recruiting front. Dollar should be viewed as someone who can help strategically on the floor on a nightly basis. His last appointment was head coach of the Seattle Redhawks where he maintained winning records at home, and had his team appear consistently at the College Basketball Invitationals.
The assistant coach that doesn’t have the most recognition in the Pacific Northwest quite yet is assistant coach Dave Rice. There’s real significance to this hire, as I personally had the pleasure of witnessing his UNLV head-coaching tenure back in Las Vegas. To say the least, there was usually always some kind of drama, but his recruiting ability competes with the best recruiters out there.
In short, he wasn’t the greatest head coach from a playbook standpoint. While he was personable, he lacked the stratagem to bring some of his talented teams to the next level. He was able to bring the Runnin’ Rebels to the NCAA tournament twice, but couldn’t consistently dominate a relatively weaker Mountain West Conference. His recruiting classes were always outstanding for being in a city where playing college basketball had become lackluster.
The likes of Anthony Bennett, Rashad Vaughn, and Patrick McCaw came through his system before entering the NBA. He has experience building local pipelines as well and even poaching a couple players from PAC-12 programs. A lot of his former players are also on the edge of being in the NBA or are currently playing in lesser leagues around the world. Rice remains as the third most winningest coach at UNLV and his unique experience from Las Vegas brings a certain tenacity on the recruiting front.
The mix of carryover and new blood to the bench shows how Hopkins is willing to adapt to this new climate. Coming in, he’s showing Husky fans that he won’t just be copy-pasting his former mentor Jim Boeheim’s system from Syracuse.
The rebuild will take some time. Recently in an exhibition match, the Huskies barely escaped with a narrow win over a Division II school, Saint Martin. While scoring 91 points on any night is a great sign for offensive ability, giving up 87 points is a cause for concern. Nonetheless, Husky players David Crisp, Noah Dickerson, and Matisse Thybulle look to carry this offense early on. The loss of Romar also saw the loss of the highly touted Michael Porter Jr., who took his talents to Missouri, noting a big hit to the Husky offense. Hopkins will surely be stressing defense.
The first game for this new squad is this Friday against the Belmont Bruins, a team that has maintained relative success in the Ohio Valley Conference. Their senior guard is a premier passer and will cause trouble for the Huskies early in the game. Again, Husky players Crisp, Dickerson, and Thybulle will be responsible for responding with easy baskets. Fans shouldn’t expect much, but a win would be a great start to this season.