Expectations v. reality is a tough debate in sports, and it is even tougher with college sports. This is especially true because in most cases you are dealing with teenagers who tend to be a bit more unpredictable. The jump from high school to Division 1 in any sport can be daunting. Load them with increased pressure from misplaced expectations and anything can happen.
A prime example is the University of Washington college basketball team and their latest bombshell. The signing of two five-star recruits has Husky fans foaming at the mouth in anticipation of the 2019-20 hoop season.
First off, head coach Mike Hopkins used his East Coast contacts and landed the No. 3 rated (ESPN 100) player in Isaiah Stewart, a 6-9 bruising power forward from Rochester, NY. Now comes word that No. 7 ranked Jaden McDaniels has decided to stay in the Northwest and play for the Huskies next season. Signing the 6’10” McDaniels gives Hopkins his first two legitimate big men.
On top of all that, those potential 2020 NBA lottery picks will team up with nationally ranked shooting guard RaeQuan Battle and former Kentucky point guard Quade Green, who will be eligible to play in the second semester after transferring in at mid-year last season.
So where do you place your expectations for next season? Book your tickets for the Final Four now?
For me, it’s wait and see.
According to most pro scouts, it’s likely Stewart and McDaniels will play just one season in Seattle as they are destined for NBA stardom. And that may not bode well for the Huskies. They have not had great success with one-and-done players on their roster.
In 2015 the Huskies had two NBA first-round picks in Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray and went 9-9 in the Pac-12. The next season Markell Fultz, who ended up as the No. 1 overall NBA draft pick after his one season, averaged 23.2 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.9 assists, but the team won just two games in the Pac-12.
With that said, I think next season can be different.
Let’s assume both players stay healthy and play a full season. If that happens, repeating as Pac-12 champions is within reach. Arizona, USC and Oregon will all be in the mix and have dynamite recruiting classes as well. So, it will be a tough road, to say the least.
The problem with the 2015 and 2016 teams were the players surrounding Chriss, Murray and Fultz. Serviceable players for sure, but not the elite talent that is needed to compete nationally or even in the top-heavy Pac-12.
The roster that former longtime Syracuse assistant coach Hopkins has put together for next season has some very intriguing possibilities.
If Stewart and McDaniels live up to their hype, which won’t be easy, several other players will have to step up for this team to succeed after replacing four starters from last season. The Huskies will desperately miss conference defensive player of the year Matisse Thybulle, whose play kept them in so many games when the offense was struggling. Also gone is conference player of the year Jaylen Nowell, who announced he is indeed staying in the NBA Draft pool. That pretty much shuts the door on his possible return to Montlake, but just imagine Nowell with Stewart and McDaniels. One can dream, right?
The role players around the two superstars will be crucial. I mentioned Battle and Green, but you also have to be encouraged by the NCAA Tournament Nahziah Carter had and hope his star continues to shine. Hameir Wright and Jamal Bey should also show improvement with another season under their belts.
Entering his third season with the Huskies and riding back-to-back Pac-12 Coach of the Year awards, Hopkins has his program on the rise. Putting together the nation’s No. 10 recruiting class shows that he is not only a great tactical coach but a fantastic recruiter as well. Sounds a lot like the Husky football coach.
Hopefully Hopkins won’t strain his arm patting himself on the back. He has a lot of work to do with this young team. All eyes will be on him and this much-heralded recruiting class. Can he mold these teenagers into a cohesive unit and take them on an unprecedented, season-long run? Husky fans are counting on it.
Expectations are skyrocketing for next season, and it appears the right man is steering the ship.