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Five things we learned about Mike Hopkins during the Olympics

The head-coach-in-waiting has now been a part of Team USA basketball through four competitions and has cherished every one of them as a great learning experience.

NCAA Basketball: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Syracuse men’s basketball assistant coach Mike Hopkins wrapped up his fourth stint with the senior national team after winning gold in Rio yesterday. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had a chance to interview Hop over the phone and provide insight into the trials and tribulations of his ascent to becoming a highly desired head coaching prospect. The following are the five most intriguing points Medina covered:

The Origin of “The Hoperator”

Hopkins was a gritty player, one that would do anything to get his team the edge. He would dive for loose balls and take a charge call if it meant better positioning for Santa Ana Mater Dei, his high school alma mater, on offense or defense. He was affectionately nicknamed “The Hoperator” by teammates because of his determination to be the best he could possibly be. His physical nature of play got him into trouble, though, when he ended up fracturing his left foot before Mater Dei played for the State Championship in 1987.

Gary McKnight, his head coach, subbed Hop in for the last 30 seconds of the game because he could see the kid going crazy having to sit on the bench while the rest of the team played on the court.

The Bumpy Road to Syracuse

Hop doesn’t skip a beat when he says that if it wasn’t for McKnight, he wouldn’t have even been considered by Jim Boeheim and the rest of the Syracuse staff. He was a lanky teenager who lacked the muscle mass necessary to survive in Division One, and specifically Big East, play.

He attended Nike camp to improve his overall skills, and Boeheim took notice. McKnight had tried to convince Boeheim by saying that Hop would be a great player, but he wanted to see for himself. He obviously saw what he liked in Hop and decided to give the kid a chance.

Hopkins Shines During His Upperclassman Years

As it seems to be the case on many occasions, when Mike got to Syracuse, the team was stacked up and down the lineup. He saw a few minutes of action during his freshman year before redshirting. Because of this, he was able to develop into a true college player and was eventually named a starter during his junior year. He followed that season up by being honored as one of the team’s captains his senior year.

All Signs Lead Back to Syracuse

After his collegiate career came to a close, it was time for Hop to see where his life would take him next. Nothing seemed to be working out in the CBA nor overseas, so he thought he might try to work for his father’s manufacturing company back home in California. His father rejected that because of the wave of layoffs they had just endured and it wouldn’t be fair to those people.

He was invited by Marv Marinovich to conduct individual workouts with preparatory school players. Boeheim didn’t have to think twice about bringing him onto the staff to fill a vacancy that had just been opened. His work ethic and knowledge of the game alone would be beneficial.

Good Player, Even Better Coach

A lot of kind words regarding Coach Hopkins have been said over the years since his hiring. Former players have lauded his no-nonsense approach. It also bodes well for coaching Team USA. He’s taken bits and pieces that he’s learned from the pros to use in Syracuse’s gameplan.

He’s appreciated by NBA stars, such as Kobe Bryant, who vouched for him being a good fit at USC when they came calling, and Kevin Durant just to name a couple. He had this to say about his approach to coaching:

We are very fortunate to have Mike Hopkins in our camp and hopefully for the long-run.