SEATTLE — Every college basketball team opens a new season facing questions. Washington is no different with the exception of everything being different.
UW is in a transitional period. Lorenzo Romar led the program for 15 years as the Huskies’ coach. Romar was fired after going 9-22 overall and 2-16 in Pac-12 play last year. In steps Mike Hopkins.
A former longtime Syracuse assistant, Hopkins is implementing a zone defense for a team which has been at the bottom in points allowed the last two seasons.
There’s also the matter of replacing a certain No. 1 NBA Draft pick in former star guard Markelle Fultz and his 23.2 points, 5.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds.
UW’s first official foray into finding those answers will come against Belmont at 7 p.m. Friday at Alaska Airlines Arena.
“It’s real fun. Everyone’s looking forward to seeing (the start) of Coach Hop’s era,” Huskies guard David Crisp said. “We’re excited to show everybody what we’ve been working on.”
Hopkins’ rebuild will count on what he’s able to get out of experienced players like Crisp and how younger pieces like freshman Jaylen Nowell develop.
Finding a way to replace Fultz’s production is important but it’s not the primary point of emphasis for UW.
Defense, however, is the main area of concern which to be expected, and Hopkins’ defensive background could make the most immediate impact on how the Huskies play.
Hopkins and his staff have gradually eased the team into understanding a zone defense while refining what they know about playing man-to-man.
“I wanna be great defensively and I wanna fight on the court,” Hopkins said. “Those are the things that you can control and with that, play together. You can’t control making, missing shots. You can control trying to get better shots. Make sure the right guys are getting shots but the most important thing is you gotta take pride on defense and you gotta do it together.”
UW knows it has players who can score.
Crisp, a junior, was second in scoring last season with 13.8 points and 3.1 assists. Junior forward Noah Dickerson averaged 12.5 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds while junior guard Matisse Thybulle chipped in with 10.5 a game.
Those three players are expected to amplify their production from last year while also working Nowell, a four-star prospect last year, into the fold.
Nowell, the 6-foot-4 former Garfield High star, was one of the most prolific prep scorers in the state’s recent history.
He scored 14 in an exhibition win over St. Martin’s. It was in that game Nowell hit a game-clinching jumper with less than 10 seconds left.
“Of course, it meant a lot being my first college game,” Nowell said. “But you know, I’ve been placed in situations like that. I just remain calm and collected and knew that I was going to make it.
“You gotta have confidence in yourself. If you don’t, then, who else?”
Hopkins said the Huskies are trying new things to find a feel for its offense.
They’ve spent more time on ball movement in an attempt to work over opposing defense to find the shot.
It won’t all be about the system. Hopkins said there are going to be “certain guys” who will have some freedom with the ball.
“It’s a team where you’re going to see a curveball, you’re going to see a fastball, you’re going to see a stall,” Hopkins said of the offense. “You’re going to see whatever it takes to win and every game is going to be different.”
Huskies sign 3 for 2018
Hopkins announced his first official recruiting class on Thursday, as Elijah Hardy, Jamal Bey and Nate Roberts will join the Huskies for the 2018-19 season.
Hardy, a 6-foot-2 guard from Oakland, California and a four-star prospect, will play his senior season at Bishop O’Dowd this year.
“Elijah is a dynamic point guard who has an amazing sense to pass and make others better,” Hopkins said in a press release. “He will be able to step in immediately and have an impact.”
Bey, a 6-foot-6 small forward, comes to Seattle from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, where he averaged 18 points per game on 46.2 percent shooting as a junior.
“Jamal is a versatile wing player that comes from a winning pedigree,” Hopkins said. “He is a dynamic player with size that can get in the lane along with shooting the open three. He’s a multi-positional threat that will be a great addition to our program.”
Roberts, a 6-foot-11 forward, will spend this season at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, and is originally from Edgewood, Maryland.
“Nate’s size and strength is something we’re really excited about,” Hopkins said. “With his 7-foot-6 wingspan and athleticism, he can run and jump out of the gym.”