Per Percy Allen at the Seattle Times, Jen Cohen announced today that Washington men’s basketball head coach Mike Hopkins will return for the 2023-24 season despite rampant speculation following a disappointing year. The Huskies finished 16-16 (8-12) and 8th in the Pac-12 conference including a 1st round exit in the Pac-12 tournament as part of a 3-game losing streak to conclude the season.
Mike Hopkins has two years remaining on his contract worth a combined $6.3 million. He gets that money as long as he’s not fired for cause or chooses to leave for a different head basketball coaching job. That surely played a major factor in the decision to retain Hopkins. Washington’s athletic department is also dealing with having let go of Jimmy Lake resulting in $10 million in dead money. Lake just took a job as an assistant head coach with the Los Angeles Rams but the Huskies have still been on the hook for the vast majority of that total. The AD also spent heavily on raises this offseason for the football coaching staff to keep them around following a very successful year one including making Ryan Grubb among the highest paid coordinators in the country.
Deciding to let Hopkins go would require Washington to spend likely an extra $4+ million per year for the next two seasons on top of the existing coaching salaries to buyout a new coach, give him a contract, and pay for his assistant coaching staff. Football has long taken precedence at Washington and the decision to fire Lake and guarantee they could retain his entire staff after year one soaked up at least some of the funds that would’ve been available this spring to make the move.
Next year will be Hop’s 7th as head coach of the Huskies in what has rapidly become a tale of three coaches. Washington was 48-22 (25-11) during his first two seasons with a core of players largely left for Hopkins by the previous coaching staff. That included a trip to the NCAA tournament, a regular season Pac-12 title, and a pair of Pac-12 coach of the year awards. Following the 27-9 2nd season, Hopkins was given a 6-year, $17.5 million contract extension to prevent him from being poached.
It turns out she needn’t have worried. Washington entered a tailspin in January of 2020 after starting PG Quade Green was ruled academically ineligible. Despite having a pair of 5-star 1st round pick one-and-done’s on the roster (Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels), Washington collapsed and finished 12th place in the Pac-12 standings due to a terrible record in close games. Things only got worse the following year as a transfer reboot didn’t work out and resulted in a bottoming out at 5-21 (4-16) with a player exodus at year’s end. That meant a combined 20-38 (9-29) record.
Hopkins restored the program to at least mediocrity over the following two seasons with a better use of the transfer portal. Terrell Brown Jr. was a serious contender for Pac-12 Player of the Year in 2022 as the Huskies managed to scrape out 5th place in the standings with a 17-15 (11-9) record. Injuries to Noah Williams and Franck Kepnang lowered the ceiling on this year’s team but Braxton Meah and Keion Brooks Jr. were 2 of the most reliable options. Now Washington is essentially a .500 program with a combined 33-31 (19-21) record over the last 2 seasons.
If you ignore the existence of the transfer portal this looks like a roster that could improve next season. Jamal Bey is the only player who runs out of eligibility while high 4-star recruit Wesley Yates is signed to join in the recruiting class. Getting back a healthy Williams and Kepnang plus adding Yates and having natural growth from a core with experience play together is an argument that the Huskies could vault into the top-5 of the Pac-12 next season.
We’ll see though whether substantial turnover is coming. So far Langston Wilson is the only player to announce plans to enter the transfer portal when it opens on Monday. Keion Brooks Jr. and Cole Bajema walked at senior day but Percy Allen is reporting that Bajema plans to return despite no public statement to that effect yet and that Washington will try to convince Brooks to return for his last year of eligibility.
Despite Hopkins returning, it seems unlikely the assistant staff will stay constant with the need to bring in someone to take control of and fix UW’s offense. If Quincy Pondexter were to be let go or choose to leave for another job he would likely take Braxton Meah and Wesley Yates with him as he is blood or adopted family to both (although Meah recently posted on twitter suggesting he’ll be back next year). Both of the young freshman guards have generally stated their intentions to return to Washington but Keyon Menifield is from Michigan and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a Big Ten program closer to home reach out with an NIL offer if he enters the portal.
Given the current fanbase sentiment towards Hopkins you can be sure that any program recruiting against the Huskies in the portal will be pointing out that they’d be entering an apparent lame duck situation. In the best case scenario UW returns a core of Noah Williams, Keyon Menifield, Koren Johnson, Cole Bajema, Keion Brooks Jr., Braxton Meah, and Franck Kepnang plus adds Wesley Yates and a piece or two from the portal. In the worst case scenario over half those players are gone and UW struggles to replace them adequately.
Regardless of how fans feel about it, at least now the program can begin to plan for next season. Players know they aren’t getting a new coach and can make their decision of whether to move on with that information. Hopkins can begin to make inquiries in the transfer portal knowing for sure he’ll be around next year.
We’ll be rooting for whoever is on the roster come the fall. But it’s hard to blame any fan that feels they’ll check back in with the men’s basketball program only when the school shows they’re serious about trying to be anything better than mediocre.