Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mike Hopkins will return as UW men’s basketball coach next season, Husky AD says

Head coach Mike Hopkins of the Washington Huskies reacts to a call during the first half against the Arizona Wildcats at McKale Center on Jan. 5, 2023, in Tucson, Arizona.  (Tribune News Service)
By Percy Allen Seattle Times

Mike Hopkins is returning next season to coach the Washington men’s basketball team.

After several meetings with Hopkins in recent days, Huskies athletic director Jen Cohen made the decision to bring back the embattled coach, which ends speculation about his job security for at least another year.

“The recently concluded men’s basketball season fell below the expectations that we have for all of our athletic programs at the University of Washington,” Cohen said in a statement. “I am disappointed, Coach Hopkins and his staff are disappointed and, importantly, our passionate fans and supporters are disappointed.

“After completing a postseason review of the program and after several in-depth discussions with Coach Hopkins, I am hopeful that next season will once again see the Huskies competing for a Pac-12 championship and back in the NCAA tournament. Coach Hopkins understands our expectations and is committed to make any and all necessary changes to get us there.

“We will continue to fully support our men’s basketball program and the incredible young men who proudly wear the Husky uniform.”

During a phone interview Sunday morning, Hopkins quickly turned his attention toward the 2023-24 season.

“My whole thing is always forward thinking,” said Hopkins who has two years and $6.3 million remaining on the six-year, $17.5 million deal he signed in 2019. “Look forward. Our focus is just getting better in the offseason. Evaluating the program has already been underway. The first part of the evaluation starts with me then going through every aspect of the program and then making the changes necessary.

“The biggest thing is we’ve been there before at the top. We got some work to do, but there’s also some really good prospects. The most important thing is putting together a great team to win games.”

The Huskies struggled in that endeavor this season while compiling a 16-16 record and tying for eighth in the Pac-12 at 8-12.

The deeply unsatisfying season ended with three straight losses, including a 74-68 defeat in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament last week.

“There’s a lot of things that went wrong,” Hopkins said. “New lineups due to certain circumstances. New teams are always difficult to get to play together. That’s always the big challenge. What you realize in college basketball is it’s a fine line between 20-12 compared to being 12-20.”

Not so long ago, Hopkins was the back-to-back Pac-12 Coach of the Year winner who compiled a 48-22 overall record that included a 25-11 mark in the conference during his first two years at UW with a core of holdovers from the previous Lorenzo Romar regime, including Matisse Thybulle, Noah Dickerson, David Crisp and Dominic Green.

The high point for Hopkins and the Huskies was winning the 2019 Pac-12 regular season title and demolishing 25th-ranked Utah State 78-61 in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 2019.

However, the good times didn’t last long.

The following season, UW started 10-2 and was ranked 21st in the Associated Pres poll, which proved to be the beginning of a 3½-year decline for Hopkins and the Huskies.

Washington went 5-15 the rest of the way and finished the 2019-20 season 15-17 and last in the Pac-12 at 5-13 despite a roster that included standout freshman forwards Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels who were taken 16th and 28th respectively in the first round of the 2020 NBA draft.

The next season the Huskies were hit hard by COVID-19 and bottomed out to a 5-21 record, which included an 11th-place conference finish at 4-16.

That’s when speculation began about Hopkins’ job security.

After revamping the roster, in which eight players left, including six via transfers and the addition of seven new players highlighted by Pac-12 leading scorer Terrell Brown Jr., Washington rebounded to 17-15 and tied for fifth in the league at 11-9 during the 2021-22 season.

Another roster overhaul last summer – seven new newcomers and seven departures – set the stage for another mediocre season that included a Wooden Legacy tournament title, six lopsided losses against ranked teams and three straight defeats to end the season.

“In our business, if you don’t produce at a certain level there’s consequences,” Hopkins said. “That’s just part of it.”

Hopkins takes “full responsibility” for UW’s decent to mediocrity, but the perpetually positive-thinking coach believes he can fix the problems he created.

Hopkins plans to revamp the offense and hopes to retain a large portion of the roster for the first time since 2018. Freshman guards Keyon Menifield and Koren Johnson and junior centers Braxton Meah and Franck Kepnang are considered tentpoles after showing promise this season.

And the Huskies are planning an extensive recruiting pitch to retain senior Keion Brooks Jr., UW’s leading scorer (17.8 points per game) who can return for his fifth year due to the NCAA’s COVID eligibility rules.

Senior guard Cole Bajema, Meah and Kepnang plan to return to UW next season while senior forward Langston Wilson said he’s entering the transfer portal.

“I spoke to the team when we got back (from Las Vegas) and talked about we’re going to have conversations in the future,” Hopkins said. “But right now, they have finals next week and told them to focus on doing well in your finals and when your finals are we’ll have meetings.

“I think the biggest thing is there is only one player on this roster that can not return and that’s Jamal Bey because of is eligibility. We’ll have conversations moving forward probably the middle of the week next week when finals start to finish.”

Next season the Huskies will add four-star prospect Wesley Yates III and Seattle Prep standout Christian King is expected to sign with UW in April.

After sitting on the hot seat for quite some time, next season feels like a make-or-break year for Hopkins (101-91 and 53-61 Pac-12) who ranks sixth among coaches with the most wins at UW behind Hec Edmundson (488-195), Romar (298-196), Marv Harshman (246-146), Tippy Dye (156-91) and Bob Bender (116-142).

In her statement, Cohen made it clear she expects UW to return to compete for a Pac-12 championship and return to the NCAA tournament.

“The biggest thing for me is you don’t focus on those things,” Hopkins said. “Our standard is to be in the NCAA tournament every year. That’s what we think. That’s what we believe this program to be and that’s why we’re disappointed with the results that we got this last season.

“The important thing is that’s our standard. That’s what we focus on day to day. We focused on it all preseason and last season unfortunately we didn’t make it. We’re looking forward to the future for sure.”