Mike Hopkins was more recognizable when he arrived at Pac-12 basketball media day for the second time.
“Last year, I think I got one question and it took about 15 seconds,” the Washington coach joked. “Like ‘Hi, I’m Mike Hopkins’. Who are you?”
Reporters weren’t the only ones asking those questions.
“Last year, it was all brand new and a lot of the guys were new so we were learning how to play with each other and trying to figure out ‘Who is coach Hop?’,” recalled senior Matisse Thybulle, who earned Pac-12 defensive player of the year honors roaming at the top of Hopkins’ 2-3 zone defense. “Now that we have that foundation, it’s exciting to build off that. It’s different in the sense that we actually know what is going on this year.”
Coming off a 2-16 season in Lorenzo Romar’s final season at UW, the Huskies were picked to finish 10th in Hopkins’ first season. He led them in to a tie for sixth at 10-8, just a few wins shy of a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
With all five starters and the top seven scorers returning, Washington was picked to finish third in the conference while earning a No. 25 ranking in the preseason AP poll.
“Last year, we were teaching them how to win and this year we’re teaching them how to handle expectations,” Hopkins said. “I’m happy for their success, but predictions don’t mean anything. We’ve got to go out there and prove it.”
Sophomore guard Jaylen Nowell led the Huskies with 16.0 points per game last year while 6-foot-8 senior Noah Dickerson averaged 15.5 points and 8.4 rebounds.
Senior point guard David Crisp and 6-11 junior Sam Timmins return to the starting lineup along with Thybulle, who had led the conference with 101 steals to go with 49 blocked shots last year.
UW added five freshmen, including 7-4 Riley Sorn and 7-0 Bryan Penn-Johnson, who has a 7-7 wingspan.
“At this point the returning guys are just trying to get the freshmen up to speed because we got it down pat,” Thybulle said.