In case you missed it, news broke over the weekend that the Washington Huskies secured a commitment from Syracuse Orange target and Albany native, Hameir Wright. While Syracuse was recruiting Wright for the 2018-2019 season, the four-star forward elected to reclassify and instead pledged his commitment to Mike Hopkins for the upcoming season.
With that in mind, we reached out to our sister site UW Dawg Pound for further intel on recruiting and Hop’s auspicious offseason. Let’s dive into some Q&A!
TNIAAM: When Mike Hopkins was first hired as head coach of Washington, what was the initial sentiment from the fan base?
UWDP: The reaction was mixed. The firing of Coach Romar was an extremely polarizing act. Half of the fan base was focused on the greatest recruiting class in UW history, which included #1 overall player Michael Porter Jr., and so felt robbed when Romar was fired. The other half was desperate for change of any kind and felt that 9-22 constituted rock bottom.
The majority of fans were realistic that UW wasn’t going to get Archie Miller or Gregg Marshall to come to Seattle and so were expecting either an up and coming mid major coach or a re-tread. Hopkins came completely out of the blue but those with realistic expectations generally viewed him as a good hire. The litmus test Hopkins faced was: salvage as much of the recruiting class as possible, keep the top few players from transferring, keep recruiting in the top-25 long-term, and get the team to play defense of any kind.
TNIAAM: Now after Hop's first 100 days, has that sentiment changed, either good or bad?
UWDP: Most fans are reserving judgment until they actually see the team play a game but can be classified as cautiously optimistic. It helped Hop’s credibility as someone who would demand physicality that he got a black eye going through a drill shortly after arriving. The first three criteria I laid out above are all the fans have to go off of right now and he’s scored a 2.5 out of 3 in that regard.
The hope was that Seattle area teammates and top-100 recruits Daejon Davis and Jaylen Nowell could be kept in the fold after Hop’s hire. He ultimately went 1 for 2, keeping Nowell but losing Davis to Stanford. Shortly after losing Davis, it was announced that starting PF and former top-100 recruit Noah Dickerson was looking to transfer and those that declared the sky was falling appeared to be right. But then Nowell signed back on, Dickerson changed his mind, and UW got the commitments of the last two weeks which have greatly increased the positivity around the program.
TNIAAM: Was getting Hameir Wright and Nahz Carter committing to Washington a surprise to most?
UWDP: They were a complete surprise. News came out a day or two before each that they would be making an unofficial visit to the UW campus and then both committed the same night of their visit. The three commits for the 2017 class that Hopkins had secured to that point were all from Seattle and there wasn’t an expectation that he would be able to get anyone from New York to come all the way across the country without winning some games first.
There was also some skepticism developing around Hop’s recruiting abilities without the Syracuse name behind him. Of his 3 recruits leading up to Carter and Wright, Nowell was a Romar holdover, Nate Pryor was a 2-star guard who had been committed to Hopkins assistant coach hire Cameron Dollar at Seattle University, and Michael Carter III was a 2-star guard with no high major offers who had been committed to San Francisco. Getting two 4-star recruits essentially single-handedly was huge for Hop’s image.
TNIAAM: How do you see recruiting shaking out further down the road? Will there be more emphasis placed on regional talent?
UWDP: One of the interesting things about the Carter and Wright commitments is that it means there are now 0 open spots for the 2018 recruiting class. The only senior on next season’s team is a former walk-on and Wright’s commitment indicates that he will be going back to being a walk-on. That causes a lot of uncertainty for next year’s recruiting class. There’s a top-50 SG coming out of Seattle for 2018 in Kevin Porter Jr that is viewed as a must get and they are also in desperate need of an elite rim protector so the most likely outcome appears to be several transfers following next season. Right now there are 2 point guards, 8 wings, and 3 big men on the roster so someone is going to be unhappy with playing time and want to leave.
I fully expect to see less and less reliance on East Coast talent and a shift back towards Seattle as time goes on. It’s long been the case that if UW could retain the top-2 players from Seattle every year that they would be a perennial Pac-12 contender. The best teams under Lorenzo Romar were full of local talent like Brandon Roy, Nate Robinson, and Isaiah Thomas supplemented with Oregon or California guys. Hopkins retained assistant coach Will Conroy who was himself a star at UW on those teams and also hired Dollar who coached at Seattle U and was a former assistant under Romar. That speaks to a desire to build a fence around the city of Seattle again.
TNIAAM: What are the realistic expectations for Washington this season? The year after?
UWDP: Those interested in what I think expectations should be in more detail can check out this article. Essentially, expectations are pretty low. This is a team that went 2-17 in Pac-12 play last year before losing the #1 overall pick in the NBA draft. The team is also losing its #3 and #4 big men leaving them with just one player taller than 6’8” on the roster. However, there are reasons for hope. UW was 347th out of 351 teams in Experience last season per kenpom.com. The core of the team is now a quartet of juniors who were all 4-star recruits by Scout. If Hopkins can teach them to play defense, there’s enough talent and finally experience to make a run at an NIT bid. The year after will see those same players as seniors and with the additions of 4-star players in Carter, Wright, and Nowell for this freshman class it is realistic to envision 2018-19 as the year when UW could end an 8-year NCAA Tourney drought.
TNIAAM: It's not like Lorenzo Romar wasn't able to get top talent on campus before, are expectations tempered given the lack of on the court success?
UWDP: One more plug of my takes on this subject here. The UW program was in a weird place where they brought in really only 1 player of any consequence (eventual Gonzaga transfer Nigel Williams-Goss) over a 3-year stretch from 2012-2014 sandwiched between periods of great recruiting. That destroyed the depth of the team and left a huge void in veteran leadership. The last two years have been essentially lord of the flies with the kids running the show. Romar is a tremendous person and was a great ambassador for the program but I think most fans have come to grips with the fact that he was a terrible in-game coach and that if Hopkins is even average then it could lead to a quicker bounce back than expected.
TNIAAM: How soon do you think Syracuse gets on the non-conference portion of the schedule?
UWDP: It would definitely be fun to see. We don’t know yet what Hopkins’s approach to non-conference scheduling will be so it’s tough to say. UW reinstated their annual game with Gonzaga last season and there’s a matchup with Kansas slated for 2017-18 so it seems fairly unlikely such a game will come this year. It’s also very difficult to get major programs on the East Coast to fly out to Seattle so it would likely be either a Syracuse home game or a virtual Syracuse home game via showcase at MSG. Ultimately, it comes down to whether Hopkins wants to go head-to-head against his mentor in Jim Boeheim. I wouldn’t blame Hopkins if he decided not to willingly put them both through the extra media distraction of such a matchup out of respect. Time will tell.
Thanks for the insight, Max! Be sure to head on over to www.uwdawgpound.com as we’ll have material up later as well. Max is the basketball editor over there, so be sure to follow him on twitter for Washington/Hop updates as we get closer to the college basketball season.