During the summer of 2019, Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels arrived at the University of Washington tagged as surefire lottery picks in the 2020 NBA draft.
Heading into Wednesday’s draft, with coverage starting at 4 p.m. PT on ESPN, their pro potential has fallen considerably after the roller-coaster season for UW men’s basketball, which started with talk of a Final Four appearance before crashing to a last-place finish in the Pac-12.
Stewart and McDaniels left Washington after only one season, but it appears as if UW’s former dynamic duo is being adversely impacted by the Huskies’ dismal 15-17 finish and 5-13 conference record.
“People look at it like ‘Gosh, how do you have two first-round picks and have a season like that?’” coach Mike Hopkins said. “Sometimes it happens. We lost a lot of close games because of our lack of experience.
“But some of the moments they had and some of the things they did, you can’t deny they’re not going to be uber successful at the next level.”
Hopkins isn’t the first UW coach to explain how the Huskies fell far short of expectations despite a seemingly loaded roster highlighted by two potential first-round picks.
Back in 2016 and 2013, his predecessor Lorenzo Romar had difficulty rationalizing UW’s on-court shortcomings with teams that included multiple first-round picks.
Hopkins acknowledged the Huskies’ fortunes took a downward turn when point guard Quade Green became academically ineligible midway through the season after an 11-4 start.
The fourth-year coach also took responsibility for a 4-13 finish in the final 17 games. He talked about the challenges of trying to win with a freshman-oriented team as opposed to his first two years when veteran groups led Washington to 21 and 27 victories.
“It was a learning process for me,” said Hopkins, a two-time Pac-12 Coach of the Year award winner with a 63-39 record at UW. “The biggest thing for me, I knew this, but it gets reaffirmed that this thing is hard. Coaching is hard. Winning is hard.”
Despite the disappointments, Hopkins believes Stewart and McDaniels benefited from their stint with the Huskies.
“They still had an incredible year in a lot of ways on the basketball front,” Hopkins said. “Obviously, we wish we would have had a better season, but that’s the only thing that I wish I could have done more for them.”
Stewart, a 6-foot-9, 245-pound forward from Rochester, New York, was the No. 3 overall recruit in the nation and the national high school player of the year who declined offers from schools such as Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Syracuse.
Meanwhile, McDaniels, a 6-10, 185-pound forward who starred at Federal Way High, was ranked No. 7 nationally and chose UW over Kentucky, UCLA, Texas and San Diego State.
Statistically, Stewart lived up to the hype while ranking seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring (17.0), third in rebounds (8.8), blocks (2.1) and field-goal percentage (57%).
In hindsight, Hopkins regrets not encouraging Stewart to shoot more perimeter shots. He converted a mere 5 of 20 3-pointers, which has been a source of concern for NBA scouts.
“He’s so good in the interior that you’re going against the percentages, but I would probably let him do that,” Hopkins said. “I would have trusted that more because he has that ability. He just got pounded every day. It was like people were trying to chop down a tree.
“He had two, three guys on his back trying to stop him. … That’s not going to be the case in the NBA.”
Hopkins likens Stewart to Los Angeles Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell while noting “his relentless passion, his learnability and his coachability. All of those things translate into winning.”
The UW coach also has a comparison for McDaniels, who showcased a versatile skill set while averaging 13.0 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 blocks and 0.8 steals.
“Everybody was saying Kevin Durant, but he reminds me of Scottie Pippen when he was at 19 years old,” Hopkins said. “He’s got great passing ability. He’s got great vision. He shoots the ball better. … And he can defend at that size.”
There’s a lot to like about McDaniels, but the mercurial 20-year-old also led the Pac-12 with 103 personal fouls, eight disqualifications, five technical fouls and was second with 100 turnovers.
And he was benched in eight of the final 10 games.
Hopkins praised McDaniels’ toughness for a speedy return after suffering a high-ankle sprain that occurred Jan. 11 at California while noting his maturation as the season progressed.
“Near the end of the year, when he got it, he did an unbelievable job of adapting and growing,” Hopkins said. “That’s the thing about young kids.
“He’s a high-level competitor. He’s got immense talent. He’s got an amazing mom and dad. And the sky is the limit. Kids grow up. Kids mature. You make mistakes at 18 or 19. I know we had so many great days with him and I know his best days are ahead. I think he’s going to be a really successful NBA player.”
The latest NBA draft projections tab the UW duo as late first-round prospects. Here’s a look.
ESPN: McDaniels (25th) and Stewart (27th). SI.com: McDaniels (22nd) and Stewart (25th). Yahoo Sports: McDaniels (17th) and Stewart (30th). USA Today: McDaniels (23rd) and Stewart (25th). NBAdraft.net: McDaniels (26th) and Stewart (39th). NBAdraftroom.com: Stewart (19th) and McDaniels (27th).
“Mock drafts are for readers,” Hopkins said. “There’s no one in there that’s a decision maker. It’s all rumor or what they’re hearing. I also think there’s a lot of gamesmanship that’s being played. I know from the calls I’m getting that people love these kids.
“But the key to this whole thing is getting to an organization that believes in those guys and invest in them. It doesn’t matter if you’re the ninth pick, the 19th pick or the 29th pick, if you get in the right situation on the right team when they invest in you, that’s the key.
“I know what their skill level is, the people that they are and I know they’re going to be successful.”