Washington forward Keion Brooks Jr. (1) drives to the basket against Washington State during a game Feb. 11 in Pullman. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)

Washington forward Keion Brooks Jr. (1) drives to the basket against Washington State during a game Feb. 11 in Pullman. (AP Photo/Dean Hare)

Hopkins’ Huskies have new look

The team has made fundamental changes on offense and defense and, once again, features mostly new group of players,

By Percy Allen / The Seattle Times

Mike Hopkins is an avid Washington Husky football fan who admittedly has been influenced by its dazzling passing attack led by quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and receivers Rome Odunze, Jalen McMillan and Ja’Lynn Polk.

“Everybody loves scoring,” the UW men’s basketball coach said. “It’s fun. It’s exciting. It’s what the fans want and it wins games. You see it with our football team, which is one of the best in the country.

“We want to borrow on a little bit of that. That’s where the game is going. … We have to score more points, so we’re trying to make that happen.”

In addition to fundamental changes to the offensive and defensive schemes, once again the new-look Huskies underwent a major offseason makeover and reshuffled the roster primarily via the transfer portal.

Eight players left and eight came on board to join the five holdovers from last season’s team that finished 16-16 and tied for eighth in the Pac-12 at 8-12.

It’s the third straight year in which UW has brought in at least seven newcomers and this time Hopkins thinks he’s done it right.

“There’s no question that I’ve made mistakes and I’ve learned a lot,” said Hopkins, who has had one winning season the past four years while compiling a 53-69 record, including 28-50 in the Pac-12. “I believe we’ve always had good players, but I don’t know if we’ve had the best combination of players.

“I feel like the staff has done a really good job of putting together a combination of players, guys that complement each other’s skill set and kids who have done it selflessly. It’s hard to build a culture when there’s a lot of turnover, but you can also recruit culture and kids that embody that culture. You can solve a lot of problems that way.”

The Huskies also had 10 weeks of practice this summer in preparation for their overseas trip to Paris and Barcelona, which helped jump-start the chemistry-building and team-bonding process.

Here’s a look at three questions Washington must answer before its regular-season opener against Bellarmine on Nov. 6.

Can the newcomers fix the offense?

Say hello to Sahvir Wheeler, Moses Wood, Paul Mulcahy and Wesley Yates III.

You should probably get to know them because they’re going to be tasked with resurrecting a dormant Husky offense that ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-12 last season in 3-point field-goal percentage (31.3% — 11th), assists per game (11.5 — 10th), points per game (69.2 — eighth) and field-goal percentage (43.1% — seventh) while leading the league with 14 turnovers per game.

Wheeler, a 5-foot-9 point guard who played the past two seasons at Kentucky before two years at Georgia, will likely pair with Mulcahy, a 6-6 playmaker who spent four years at Rutgers, to comprise one of the most experienced backcourts in college basketball. Combined they’ve tallied 1,919 points, 1,112 assists and played in 220 games.

Wood, a 6-8 forward, should get the start in the frontcourt alongside all-conference returners Keion Brooks Jr. at forward and center Braxton Meah. During a five-year career that’s included stops in Portland, UNLV and Tulane, the 24-year-old Wood has shot 40.7% on 3-pointers in 120 games.

“The big thing is we want to score early,” Hopkins said. “Last year, we played with the second-fastest pace in the league behind Arizona. The problem is we shot 32% from 3 and we had the worst assist-to-turnover ratio in the league.

“We still want to play fast and across the board, our shooting has improved dramatically and our playmaking has improved. I think that our assist-to-turnover ratio will go from 12th to top three or four. And our 3-point shooting will be in the top three or four. We plan to play at a fast pace and that’s when you start scoring points.”

UW’s other newcomers include Christian King, Anthony Holland, Nate Calmese and Wilhelm Breidenbach.

To Zone or not to Zone?

After 12 weeks of practice — 10 in the summer and two since the start of training camp — the Huskies have not practiced the zone, which is somewhat extraordinary since Hopkins has been a staunch advocate of the 2-3 zone he brought to Seattle from Syracuse.

“Right now, we haven’t played one possession,” Hopkins said. “The coaches are like, ‘We need to put it in.’ But you can’t be great at everything if you want to focus on something.

“The kids enjoy the man-to-man and how we’re playing it and how we’re playing the ball screen. We’re as disruptive as we were in the zone. Guys are moving. I think our intelligence and our experience helps us through that. We’re going to have to play against zones so we’ll do it, but we haven’t done it yet. I’m trying to keep us focused on how fast we can play and how smart on the defensive end. How connected we can be in our rotations and still be disruptive.”

To be certain, Hopkins has done this before.

Led by prized freshmen Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, the Huskies began the 2019-20 season playing an inordinate amount of man by Hopkins’ standards before reverting back to the zone.

However, this year could be different.

Hopkins sought the influence of Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown, who spent 10 weeks in Seattle working with the Huskies. The 83-year-old Brown will continue to assist UW either as an assistant or an adviser.

What’s next for Brooks and Meah?

Brooks is the first Husky to receive All-Pac-12 honors — he was a second-team choice — and return the next year since Noah Dickerson, who garnered first-team honors as a junior after the 2017-18 season.

In addition, Meah is the first Husky voted to the league’s all-defensive team to return since Dickerson’s teammate Matisse Thybulle did it five years ago.

Brooks, who averaged career-highs 17.7 points and 6.7 rebounds last season, is poised to make a run at the Pac-12 Player of the Year award if he leads the Huskies to a top-three finish in the conference race.

Meanwhile, Meah, a 7-1 junior, is considered UW’s top pro prospect due to his defensive prowess. Last season he averaged 1.6 blocks, 7.2 rebounds and 8.8 points on 70.6% shooting from the field.

An uptick in production from Brooks and Meah would bode well for Washington, which made retaining them an offseason priority.

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