Nobody would accuse new Washington Huskies men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins from resting on his laurels after taking the job last Sunday.
The biggest reason would be the highest-ranked recruit in the nation, Michael Porter Jr., who had signed a National Letter of Intent to join the Huskies next season but quickly changed his plans to go the University of Missouri after Lorenzo Romar was fired as the Huskies coach. In the interim, Hopkins said he reached out to Porter and his family, which includes his father and Romar’s former assistant at UW, Michael Porter Sr., which was just one of many things on his plate in his first week on the job.
Hopkins told 710 ESPN Seattle’s “Bob, Groz and Tom” on Friday that he and the Porters weren’t able to meet face to face until after Porter Sr. had signed on to join new Missouri head coach Cuonzo Martin’s staff. Worth mentioning is the fact that the Porters moved to Seattle in the last year from Missouri, and in that time Porter Jr. led Nathan Hale High School to a Washington 3A state championship.
“We played phone tag back and forth and I knew he was a player (in) Missouri and I knew that was something that was gonna interest him,” Hopkins said. “I wanted to give him the respect to see him face to face and have that conversation. We made that happen – I was able to sit down with Coach Porter and his wife the other day, but he’d already committed to taking the job at Missouri. We wish him the best. Obviously Michael is an incredible player, I think the best player in the country, and I just hope he has a lot of success. Great people.”
With the Porters set to return to Missouri, the attention for Hopkins now turns to the other players that committed to Washington as well as the team he inherits from Romar. And while junior forward Matthew Atewe has said he will transfer, sophomore forward Noah Dickerson is reportedly exploring his own transfer options, and guard recruit Blake Harris asked for and was granted a release from his NLI, Hopkins is glad to have help going forward in keeping the team intact and adding to it. That would be from assistant coach and former UW star Will Conroy, a Seattle native who played in the NBA and was on Romar’s staff the past two seasons.
“It’s one of those things where we’re building relationships,” Hopkins said regarding recruits. “They don’t know who I am, and so obviously one of the most important things for me taking the job was really getting a great feel for Will Conroy, who’s been on the staff, who understands the Seattle area and understands the program. He’s just been an incredible asset, so that’s been big. But this is kinda, I like to call speed dating time. You’re out there, you’re getting in front of these guys, you’re getting to know them, but those relationships take time. We’re working on it on a day-to-day basis.”
As for those who have already played in a Huskies uniform, like sophomores David Crisp and Matisse Thybulle, Hopkins said they were as big of a reason as any he decided to come to Montlake and leave Syracuse, where he was in line to take over for head coach Jim Boeheim after the 2017-18 season.
“One of the reasons why I took this job is I felt like the talent that is here is very good,” he said. “I think you look at that sophomore class (that’s) gonna be juniors, they’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of really good kids.”
Even though he’s taking over a 9-22 team that ended 2016-17 on a 13-game losing streak and hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2011, Hopkins isn’t setting the bar low for his first season.
“This is gonna be a process, a new system, and that does take time, but, you know, I want to win now,” he said. “I get that there are certain factors that play into that, but I think we have really good bones on the team. Coach Romar obviously did an incredible job of building this program and keeping up that reputation of these kids wanting to stay home and the pride of being here, and I just look upon building that and keeping that tradition.”