November 23—Heading into the Wooden Legacy, the Washington men’s basketball team is 3-1 before Wednesday’s 6:30 pm game against Fresno State (1-3). The Huskies will be hoping to capture their first non-conference tournament title since winning this event in 2014 to ease the pain of last week’s embarrassing 73-64 loss at home to Cal Baptist.
Once again, coach Mike Hopkins finds himself dogged by criticism from a skeptical UW fan base frustrated by another early-season mishap and a three-year NCAA tournament drought.
In many ways, the Huskies are still reeling from losing four starters from their 2019 NCAA Tournament team, representing the height of the Hopkins era and the point from which many of the recent woes can be traced. of the team.
That 2018-19 team won 27 games and produced a pair of stars in Jaylen Nowell, who won Pac-12 Player of the Year as a sophomore, and Matisse Thybulle, who captured Naismith Defensive Player of the Year honors. Year.
After his departure along with starters Noah Dickerson, David Crisp and standout backup guard Dominic Green, the Huskies have never been the same.
The Isaiah Stewart-Jaden McDaniels pairing in 2019-20 got off to a great 10-2 start before a disappointing 15-17 finish, considering the one-time standouts were taken in the first round of the NBA draft.
Since then, the Huskies have used transfer portal discards to put together a roster with mixed results.
In 2020, the UW brought four trades, but Erik Stevenson, Nate Pryor and J’Raan Brooks spent just one season at UW, and the Huskies hit rock bottom with a 5-21 mess that put Hopkins’ job in jeopardy.
The following year, the Huskies returned to the portal once more and nabbed five newcomers, including hometown hero Terrell Brown Jr., who led the Pac-12 in scoring last season and proved instrumental in a surprising revamp that culminated in a 17-15 record. .
Unfortunately for UW, four starters left the team and Hopkins replaced them with, you guessed it, four transfers, highlighting seven newcomers.
Few programs have used the transfer portal more than Washington, which has been both a blessing and a curse for the Huskies.
“Recruiting is recruiting, but the thing about the transfer portal is that you can get old quickly,” Hopkins said. “You can gain experience.”
“You’re looking for balance. You can fill a void. Gonzaga, Baylor and Houston have done that … When you have a player who was maybe highly drafted, they’ve already passed him. They know what they want now. Maybe they got the nod at this school or it didn’t work out and they’re very specific.
According to verbalcommits.com, there were 1,768 Division I transfers in 2022, which is a 306% increase over 2012, when 578 players changed schools.
“Look, this is not slowing down,” Hopkins said. “I don’t know if we or any team can age like we did in [2018-19] when you had four of your main guys playing over 100 games together. Trust me, I’d love to see that happen, but there’s movement in our game like never before.
“And you’ve got to accept that… We’re learning how to get better with that. Last year, we had that 5-5 start. So how do we speed up the process? We fell out after two weeks.” [in training camp] instead of three just to get information about our team. We did our life skills long before. We did a team bowling outing. You want them to connect in the locker room. The things off the court are just as essential, if not more so, to building chemistry than what you do in practice or games.”
Forward Keion Brooks Jr., who spent the previous three years at Kentucky, attributes his early success to a quick bond with his UW teammates.
“We did some things where we got personal and shared some things with each other and I thought that was really cool,” said Brooks, who missed two games with a leg injury and is averaging 15.5 points and 6.5 rebounds. “I have to [walk] in someone else’s shoes a bit. I really thought that made us closer and more connected. It’s much easier to go out and fight someone when you know what they’re fighting about. I thought the experience we had was really great.
“I shared my journey and how I got here. I shared some of my insecurities that I never told anyone. I thought it was a good opportunity to open myself up to new guys. They listened to me and helped me through it.” that all the time. The other boys shared a few things. I don’t take it lightly. I respect them for sharing that with me and being able to come to work every day and understand what we’re accomplishing in terms of a common goal.”
For the second year in a row, Washington launches a lineup with four new starters, which partly explains why the Huskies have floundered in early-season matchups.
“For sure, we’ve had a lot of turnover, and in my experience the most important thing is trying to get closer to everyone,” said guard Jamal Bey, a fifth-year graduate student and four-year starter. “You want to build that confidence as quickly as you can so that when things go wrong on the court, there’s someone there to pick you up and you don’t put your head down.
“We have a veteran team and we have experience, but a lot of us don’t have experience playing against each other and that’s what we’re working on.”
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