While all of the focus is on Jim Boeheim and what's going to happen to him in light of the NCAA sanctions levied against the Syracuse Orange basketball program, there's another character in this cast who is quietly working his way up from bit player to the main stage...Mike Hopkins.
He Who Would Be Orange King is getting a chance to step into the spotlight a bit sooner than expected. We know that he's going to run the Syracuse sidelines for nine ACC games next season (unless there's a change under appeal). And in the interim, Coach Hop got a chance to run his first post-game presser (albeit under strange circumstances) and can probably consider the year ahead a trial run towards his own eventual stint as head coach.
So far, I think you can like what you see out of Hop.
In the post-game presser, he was genial and brought a little bit of that Hopkins looseness with him. He doesn't have the confidence or air of ownership that Boeheim has behind a microphone, but there's something refreshing about that. You know this is new for Hopkins and it's nice to see a little bit of humanity up there talking about SU. Boeheim's curmudgeon-y style has given us some iconic moments but he can also be bristly and mean when he doesn't need to be. I don't see Hopkins doing that.
Having watched him over the years and seeing the way the players react to him, you can tell Hopkins is the cool older brother of Syracuse basketball to Boeheim's ornery Dad. You really want to impress your Dad but you have a stronger connection to the brother whose looking out for you and checking in with you every day. He's emotionally invested in the players, the programs and even Boeheim. And when he talks about any of those things, it always seems like Hopkins is a couple sentences away from getting emotional. Or in the case of the Hardwood Club Dinner, he actually shows his emotions.
You never really know what Jim Boeheim is thinking. It's a tactic that has saved his butt many times, but, also cost him a lot of goodwill for situations like this. Is he saying something just because he's hardwired to say that or is he saying something cause that's what he believes? He's famous for saying one thing during the season and then telling the truth once the season is over. So when Boeheim told the Hardwood crowd "I'm not going anywhere," it was typical Boeheim. Defiant, but, who knows whether or not he can truly say that.
Hopkins, meanwhile, got up there and spoke for twenty minutes to accept the Vic Hanson Medal of Excellence. While there, he talked about the lessons of his father, the lessons he's learned from Boeheim and his feelings about the players. It was emotional. It was raw. It was honest.
Mike Hopkins is the kind of guy who can't even say "My Dad..." without losing it and I f***ing love that.
None of this is to say that I want Jim Boeheim gone. Boeheim is Syracuse Basketball. If he's staying and Syracuse University lets him stay, then so be it. But eventually, probably sooner than later, Boeheim will be gone. And it still seems like Mike Hopkins will be the guy to step into his shoes.
I don't know if Mike Hopkins will be a better head coach than Jim Boeheim. That's a tall order. But he'll be friendlier, more emotionally-available and carrying way less baggage with him.
Maybe that's what Syracuse's reputation will need more than anything.