SEATTLE — The ‘a-ha’ moment for the Washington basketball team this preseason was not a posterizing dunk. Nor was it someone hitting a barrage of 3-pointers from all over the court.
UW’s defining series of events during training camp came on defense. For real. The Huskies, the same program which has finished 332nd or worst the last two years in points allowed, is trying to build a part of its identity by getting stops. The experience itself was so memorable for junior forward Noah Dickerson, he spoke as if the team discovered a new frontier or explored a distant solar system.
“In one of the scrimmages, my team didn’t let the other team score for eight minutes,” Dickerson said. “That was probably the best. … We didn’t let the other team score for eight minutes. That was probably one of the best defensive sequences I’ve ever been a part of.”
Welcome to life under new coach Mike Hopkins.
The Huskies still have a little more time to fine-tune things before their Nov. 10 season opener against Belmont. Thursday does provide UW another opportunity to alter a few more things when it hosts an exhibition game against Saint Martin’s at 7 p.m. at the Alaska Airlines Arena.
Quite a bit has changed with UW in the last few months. Hopkins replaced longtime coach Lorenzo Romar. The Huskies also lost last year’s leading scorer, Markelle Fultz, who’s now the newest No. 1 draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Hopkins, a former longtime Syracuse assistant, is essentially a living, breathing mass of energy with an eye for defense.
“When you have an identity or feel like, you have an iceball in a snowball fight, you know you got something to go to that’s an advantage,” Hopkins said of the Huskies’ new defensive approach. “It’s a psyche too. It’s fun to see.”
This is where Hopkins gets excited. He talks about how teams which drew Princeton in the NCAA Tournament, often dreaded facing the Princeton offense because it was unconventional.
Hopkins said he and his staff have shown videos of what his teams have done defensively in the past.
Going back to when he was a player, Hopkins has studied and operated out of Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone since the 1989 season.
Since the 2010-11 season, the Orange allowed an average of 63 points per game and are usually one of the better defenses in college basketball. Syracuse allowed 71.1 points last season and was still in the Top 40 percent in terms of points allowed.
The Huskies over that same period of time? They allowed a little more than 73 points per contest.
UW, which finished 9-22 last season, lost 10 games by less than 10 points. If the Huskies play better defense and win those games, they at least finish the season with 19 wins. There were three, 19-win teams which received an at-large bid in last season’s NCAA Tournament.
“I think you get excited about it. You do it and see them get stops for eight minutes and you see that it’s hard,” Hopkins said. “Then you play against it because you’re going against the other guys and they’re like, ‘Geez, this is difficult. I don’t see any openings.’
“When you learn that, it’s a pretty exciting thing, I think, for them.”
Much of the discussion with Dickerson and Hopkins is built around defense. Although there is room to talk about the Huskies’ scoring options.
Fultz and his 23.3 points are gone but UW does return its next five leading scorers, including guard David Crisp.
Crisp, who will be a junior, averaged 13.8 points while Dickerson posted 12.5 points and 8.2 rebounds.
UW will also receive contributions from at least one of its four new freshmen. The group’s biggest name is 6-foot-4 guard Jaylen Nowell, who was rated as one of the Top 100 high school seniors in last year’s rankings.
Dickerson said he knows the Huskies will score. The focus is on how to keep other teams from scoring.
“That’s one thing he’s been trying to change around, it’s the care about defense,” Dickerson said. “Really care about it. Like get hyped for stops and get hyped for stuff like that. The defensive part is what it’s really about.”