Pulling off one of college basketball’s biggest turnarounds this season didn’t go unnoticed Monday when Washington’s men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins was named the John R. Wooden Coach of the Year and junior guard Matisse Thybulle earned Defensive Player of the Year honors from the Pac-12 Conference.
Hopkins led UW to a 20-11 overall record and a 10-8 showing in Pac-12 play. His 20 wins are tied for the third-most by a Huskies coach in their first season. The record is held by Tippy Dye, who won 24 games during the 1950-51 campaign.
This is the seventh time in school history a coach has won the award and its the first since 2012. It’s also the second-most Coach of the Year wins by a Pac-12 program. Only Arizona — which has won it on 10 occasions — has more victories than UW.
“He turned what we used to know and turned us into something new, totally different,” Huskies junior forward Noah Dickerson said of Hopkins. “It took us a little while but we finally bought in and at this point, we’re 20-11. I don’t remember the last time we won this many games in a season. Twenty games is a lot of games.”
Hopkins also becomes the first coach since Washington State’s Tony Bennett to be named Pac-12 Coach of the Year in his first season. Bennett, who is now at Virginia, led the Cougars to a 26-8 record and the NCAA Tournament during the 2006-07 campaign.
Hopkins won the award after quickly restoring one of the sport’s legacy programs in one season. UW began the 2017-18 campaign with more than 1,730 victories in its history and is in the Top 20 in terms of all-time wins. But the Huskies were coming off one of the worst years in recent memory after finishing 9-22 overall while winning only two Pac-12 games last season.
Returning veterans like juniors David Crisp, Noah Dickerson, Dominic Green and Thybulle also stayed to give the Huskies an experienced base to go with its incoming talent — Pac-12 All-Freshman honoree Jaylen Nowell, Nahziah Carter, Hameir Wright — going into Hopkins’ first season.
Still, the Huskies were picked to finish 10th in the preseason Pac-12 rankings.
UW opened 3-0 but lost two straight in The 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The Huskies would run their non-conference record to 10-3 with the most signature win being a upset in early December over then-No. 2 Kansas in Kansas City, Mo. Those victories alone already more than UW had last season.
Washington’s profile continued to rise when it started with a 4-1 record in Pac-12 play, highlighted by beating then-No. 25 Arizona State and upsetting then-No. 9 Arizona when Green hit a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.
“We gotta give a lot of credit to (Huskies coach Mike Hopkins) and the whole team in general,” said Thybulle, who was named an All-Defensive team selection earlier Monday. “Without them … for me to do what I’ve been able to defensively.”
He’s the first player in school history to win the award, which was restarted in the 2007-08 season after it was discontinued following the 1986-87 campaign.
Thybulle leads the Pac-12 in steals for second straight season. He averaged 2.1 steals as sophomore. This year, he leads the Pac-12 with 3.0 steals and is third nationally behind Fordham’s Joseph Chartouny and Florida International’s Brian Beard Jr.
Thybulle’s 92 steals on the year is the sixth-highest total in a single-season in Pac-12 history. Former California star Jason Kidd holds the record with 110.
“I say the zone has helped a lot,” Thybulle said. “A lot of people don’t remember but I led the Pac-12 in steals last year but I didn’t average nearly as many as I had this year. Coach Hop just put me in a great position just to showcase what I’m capable of doing and it’s highlighted all my strengths defensively.”
As some players grew into their roles in the zone during preseason, Thybulle was an immediate success.
“You don’t really want to throw (a pass) toward him. You don’t want to,” said junior forward Noah Dickerson, who was making a case for why Thybulle should win the Defensive Player of the Year award. “My man is really out there in coverage. People get mad (in practice) because you don’t throw it to them and it’s like, ‘Man. It’s Matisse right there. I don’t know if you’re really open.’”
Thybulle, by Feb. 1, already shattered the school’s single-season record for most steals in a campaign. His 196 career steals are also the most in program history.