SEATTLE – Mike Hopkins probably scared someone Tuesday night. The Washington basketball coach tends to scream when good news comes in, and this one likely woke the neighbors.
Four months ago, it was five-star big man Isaiah Stewart who committed to UW, giving the Dawgs their highest-rated recruit in program history. And Tuesday, fellow five-star recruit Jaden McDaniels tweeted that he was joining the Huskies, giving them the No. 10 class in the country.
Hopkins had already proven he could mold talent. After inheriting a 9-22 team, he led Washington to a 21-13 record two seasons ago and a 27-9 mark last year, winning Pac-12 Coach of the Year both times.
But now, he’s proven he can land talent, too. Meaning he isn’t just scaring neighbors – he’s scaring teams all over the country.
Stewart is a 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward whose diet may very well consist of meat, potatoes and steel plates. The Rochester, New York, native is the No. 2-ranked college prospect by Rivals, and according to nbadraft.net, the projected No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft.
McDaniels is a 6-10, 185-pound wing whose 23.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 2.1 steals per game helped lead Federal Way to the State 4A championship game last March – where the Eagles lost to Gonzaga Prep.
Rivals considers him the seventh-best college prospect, while ESPN has him going seventh in next year’s draft.
Whether either of these two leaves a legacy that rivals some of the Husky greats to precede them is unknown. But despite all the lottery picks UW has produced – despite the All-Stars and All-NBA players – there has never been such a highly touted pair headed to Montlake straight out of high school.
What’s particularly encouraging for the future of the program is the mileage separating these guys’ hometowns. The East Coast relationships Hopkins established during his time as an assistant at Syracuse surely helped lure Stewart. The local relationships Washington assistants Will Conroy and Cameron Dollar have established surely helped lure McDaniels.
When you have a whole country from which to pluck prospects, and you’ve shown you can build winning teams with less-heralded talent, you won’t just be dreaming of the NCAA Tournament every year, you’ll be dreaming of playing in front of sold-out stadiums.
So should die-hard Dawg fans already be making Final Four plans? Not exactly.
Next season can go any number of ways for Washington. Heralded as Stewart and McDaniels are, we don’t know if they’ll produce or stay healthy. Three seasons ago, the Huskies had No. 1 overall draft pick Markelle Fultz, and went 2-16 in the Pac-12. The year before that, they had two NBA first-round picks in Marquese Chriss and Dejounte Murray, and went 9-9 in the Pac-12.
Throw in the fact that they lose four starters – including conference player of the year Jaylen Nowell (assuming he stays in the draft) and conference defensive player of the year Matisse Thybulle – and a repeat Pac-12 title looks daunting. Especially with Arizona bringing in the country’s No. 3 recruiting class, USC the No. 6 class, and Pac-12 Tournament champion Oregon the No. 14 class.
But if you watched what Husky guard Nahziah Carter did in the NCAA Tournament last year, you were witnessing a rising star. And a year of development from Hameir Wright and Jamal Bey might help make this the best Husky team we’ve seen in over a decade. If not ever.
While at Boise State and here at Washington, Huskies football coach Chris Petersen has always outperformed his recruiting-class rankings, even as they’ve escalated every year. Hopkins’ coaching acumen has indicated that he might be able to do the same.
Two years ago, he took over a team that hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2011. Last March, he won an NCAA Tournament game after capturing a conference title. And Tuesday, two months after signing a six-year, $17.5 million contract extension, he landed a second top-10 recruit for next season’s class.
Too soon to ask for a raise?
NCAA basketball is probably the most unpredictable of college sports. Check out ESPN’s mock draft for 2019, and you’ll see three players from Duke, three from North Carolina, and three from Kentucky. None of those schools made the Final Four.
So will 2019-20 be the Huskies’ golden season? Can’t say. But given what Hopkins and his staff have been doing, it’s hard to think that golden season is far away.
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