On the one-year anniversary of his hiring as UW’s head basketball coach, Mike Hopkins and his Huskies concluded their maiden voyage as a rebuilt basketball program. Washington fell to St. Mary’s last night in a game that undoubtedly provided significant optimism about the future while reminding us all of how much more of a climb there is left to endure.
By most measures, year one of the rebuild needs to be considered a success. Hopkins orchestrated a 12-win turnaround for a program that had been bottoming under Lorenzo Romar. He was recognized as the conference Coach of the Year in reward for that effort. Along the way, he helped to deliver a conference first-teamer (Noah Dickerson), cultivated a PAC 12 all-freshman-teamer (Jaylen Nowell) and coached the program’s first ever conference defensive player of the year (Matisse Thybulle - who curiously was not on the all-conference team).
There isn’t really any kind of credible assessment out there that could conclude that this wasn’t a successful first year in the rebuild of Washington. The Huskies are clearly a team on the rise.
So, is this where I deliver my mea culpa and admit that I was wrong about the concerns and objections that I raised before the season?
In order to move this conversation forward, I do think it is important that we spend a moment separating the points and arguments I’ve actually authored in this forum from the popular interpretations of my work - most of which have been perpetuated by people who’ve either not read it or chosen to parse phrases out of context in order to pummel me over the course of the season (which, by the way, is totally fine as long as common sense rules of decorum are maintained).
My body of work on this subject spans several articles and posts on threads, but is concentrated among these pieces in particular:
Four Days Later (3/18/17) - one of my more bolloxed headline pennings done a day before Hopkins hiring
Jen Cohen’s Hire is a Familiar Story (3/19/17) - the first and only article I’ve written about Hopkins
UWDP Basketball Shoot-Around Preview (11/8/2017)
To be clear and to set the table, I’ve never once criticized the hire of Mike Hopkins as being the “wrong man” for the job. I know that might come as a shock to some of you, but it simply has not happened. I wrote extensively about Hopkins in the 3/19 article. You can read it for yourself. Any of you who want me to admit that I was “wrong about Mike Hopkins” will have to first help me understand what I was wrong about. I will then be happy to reply.
I can say that I was clearly wrong about a few of the more pessimistic sentiments that I conveyed in the Four Days article. There are two statements in particular that don’t appear to be of any concern in hindsight:
As the AD, Jen Cohen has to consider not only what has transpired, but what the path to ascension looks like. And how she is going to be able to put butts in seats going forward.
This is where Jen Cohen screwed the pooch.
I’d like to first remind you that the context of this statement isn’t that Cohen flubbed the Hopkins hire. Hopkins had not even been hired when I wrote this. The context is my argument that Cohen didn’t have a clear rationale supporting either her evaluation process or the ultimate decision reached at the end of it. Ryan Clark of TNT shed light on this process in an article that he published last week. When you combine this reporting with my inclination to trust Cohen’s judgement (see the 1/20/16 article that I wrote in support of her candidacy) and the fact that butts did end up in seats towards the middle of the season, I think we can all agree that this concern is now groundless.
...Cohen chose to blow it up.
Who knows? Maybe she has a master plan and Gregg Marshall is going to come walking through the door.
Short of that, there is almost no chance that we’ll see a competitive team next season. It could be several seasons, in fact, before we see a return to the tournament given how long it takes to assemble a competitive roster.
Again, context matters here. In this excerpt, I was arguing that talent is supreme, both in developing a competitive team and attracting fans. My observation was that given the choice to “build it up” or “blow it up,” Cohen chose the latter at what appeared to be the expense of a severe talent drain. Keep in mind, that there was an assumption also stated in the article that we would lose at least two key contributors (Thybulle and Dickerson were at the top of my mind) and that most of the recruiting class would dissipate. That did not happen, which makes this concern wholly misguided.
The fact of the matter is that Hopkins was able to retain the core talent (particularly Dickerson) and Nowell (a critical difference) which kept Armageddon from happening. Hopkins deserves exceptional adulation for these accomplishments given that Cohen had no idea if any of that would happen when she made her decision.
So, yes, I was wrong in two of my most firmly stated concerns with the Four Days piece. That said, I stand by the other arguments that I made about the steepness of the tradeoffs (and, to be clear, ‘four days’ is a reference to the fact that, after four days, I had not yet arrived at comprehension of the rationale for making those tradeoffs) that Cohen made and the importance of talent relative to other factors in building out a winning program.
The other area that I get challenged on quite a bit is the shoot-around piece that Max Vrooman authored. That one befuddles me, to be honest. To summarize, here are the key things that I “predicted” in that piece:
- Noah Dickerson would be team MVP (he was)
- Jaylen Nowell would be the key to tapping into any upside for the team (uhhhh, yeah)
- Best case scenario was a little better than what we did record wise a year ago (UW finished 10-8 in conference, so I under-forecasted that - the Arizona and USC games being notable differences)
- The team would have a severe lack of offense (thanks to Nowell, it was only a “below average” offense)
- Worst case scenario would be similar to the best case record-wise
I’m not sure where the egregious error in these predictions occurred, but I certainly don’t see any reason to say that I was so remarkably wrong about something that an acknowledgement of my own personal ineptitude is warranted. This is especially true given the fact that nobody had any clue that Nowell was going to explode or that Dominic Green would become the second coming of Peja Stojakovic (I re-read the comment threads and found no such opinions from any of our commenters).
For the entirety of the season, I’ve been held up as the face of the “anti-Hop” movement in this forum. While I have been clearly proven wrong in some of my worst-case concerns, I do think that the opinions I’ve actually shared through my editorial work have been twisted, altered and mischaracterized by many who feel I’m somehow inclined to root for UW not to succeed in order to be “proven right.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
I will admit that I’m still not sure that UW made the choices that ultimately delivered its optimal path to a rebuild. We have to acknowledge some truths: Hopkins wasn’t able to hire his first assistant choices, recruiting is still an area of uncertainty, players like Daejon Davis, Jontay Porter, and Michael Porter, Jr. are legitimately talented, Mizzou was a tournament team this year...etc. They might be inconvenient to those who might argue that everything turned out to be rainbows and unicorns for UW this year, but these are all facts that are not in dispute. Each raises the possibility that things could have gone differently for UW.
But, whether or not UW took the optimal path, it is similarly impossible to argue that UW is not on a path to a successful rebuild. Wins over Kansas, USC, and Arizona prove that and provide a basis for higher expectations next season. This team took a huge step in the right direction and provided a lot of entertaining moments for their fans along the way.
Like most of those fans, I’m happy with simply being on the upswing and satisfied with what was an otherwise entertaining season of basketball provided by our Dawgs.
And that goes whether you think I’m right or wrong.