Embracing Expectations And Not Tempering Them

The Washington Huskies Men’s Basketball team is heading into the start of season two under head coach Mike Hopkins.

Last season, Hopkins was able to miraculously change the culture of the program in such a short time which left many in awe of his achievements.

It was good enough to win him Pac-12 Coach of The Year which was remarkable for a coach who had no prior head coaching experience.

In Lorenzo Romar’s last season as head coach of the Huskies, the team was 9-22 overall and 2-16 in Pac-12 conference play.  This past season, Hopkins led the Huskies to a successful 21-13 overall record while having a Pac-12 conference record of 10-8.  That is regarded as the biggest turnaround by any coach in Husky history.

There is tremendous buzz and optimism surrounding the Husky program right now and Husky fans are chomping at the bit for the upcoming season.

With rapid success comes high expectation!  Coach Hopkins knows that it’s par for the course when you revive a downtrodden program so fast.

“You’ve got to raise the bar, raise the standard. Every day, academically, how we operate, we’ve taken a whole level up. I’ve seen it. When you’re building a culture, culture doesn’t change in 12 months, 14 months. Culture takes time to build. All we try to do is – last year we were really happy. We got them to believe. We got them to believe in each other. Now we have to be stronger in those areas. They have to believe in each other more. We have to practice harder. We like to use the quote ‘how you do anything is how you do everything’. So it’s off the court, in the community, we’re trying to upgrade in all areas. We’ve got guys who have really bought in to what we’re doing. To do that is raise the bar, never be happy, always moving forward. Those are some of the words that we use.”  Coach Hopkins said about managing expectations in year two of his program.

Just this past week, the Huskies cracked the top-25 in the AP (Associated Press) Poll for the first time in eight seasons.

They came in ranked at #25 and were recently picked in the Pac-12 Media Poll as finishing 3rd in the conference and competing for a Pac-12 Championship.

To further this perception, the Huskies received two first place votes in the Pac-12 Media  Poll as the team to win their conference this season.

Make no mistake, the Huskies are very talented this season on paper.  They are returning several key starters from their lineup from last season.

Senior point guard David Crisp, Senior guard Matisse Thybulle, Senior forward Noah Dickerson and sophomore sensation Jaylen Nowell all return to anchor a squad looking to get over the hump.

“I mean it’s huge!  I almost count last year as year zero because if you think about it, we were trying to figure things out all year and now that we have that year out-of-the-way.  We’ve just built a really solid foundation to grow off of and I want to consider this year one and just build off of that.” Matisse Thybulle said about being in year two under Hopkins system.

Also, they are bringing in some very skilled newcomers that are expected to produce immediately and make an impact.

The Huskies were able to sign the talented 7’0 center Bryan Penn-Johnson.  Other talented players from this class include the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Nevada in 6’6″ forward Jamal Bey.  The Huskies also landed a talented point guard in 6’2″ Elijah Hardy from California and rounding out the team is another center from New Hampshire in 6’11.5″ Nate Roberts.

Coach Hopkins went out and signed tall and rangy players to fit the zone defense style he wants to play at Washington.

National analysts have seen the resurrection by Hopkins and the additions to the roster and have already begun to buy-in to the Huskies.

While many people have already begun to throw their own expectations on the Huskies, it’s the players themselves that expect a lot out of themselves in season two.

“I mean the same way as we did last year.  We had expectation in another sense where people expected us to achieve nothing!  We control our own fate.” Matisse Thybulle said in regards to expectations of the team.

The biggest expectation for this program is to make it into the NCAA Tournament after so many years of being left out of it.

That expectation will be even greater this season, now that the Huskies have added a top-25 preseason ranking to their name.

“For us big-picture, how could we give our team a chance to play for a national championship, so that’s getting into the NCAA Tournament. We have a strong enough league so that if you’re good in league and try to win a championship there, put yourself in a position to get to the NCAA Tournament. So we upgraded our non-conference schedule pretty heavily. Philosophically for the staff, we’d rather not be 24-9 and win the NIT. We’d rather be 18-15 and playing in the 11-seed game. The goal here is to get there.”  Head Coach Mike Hopkins said about what success looks like in year two.

Hopkins infused a jolt of energy and life back into the program and into his players last season and they are happy to play for hard him!

“It’s huge, I mean the head coach having your back it gives you all the confidence in the world!  You know, you have no fear of nothing, fear of nobody, and I want to do anything I can to help this team win and help ‘Coach Hop’ be successful!  You know, he has been huge in my life”.  David Crisp said about Hopkins referring to him as the rock of the team.

He lives by the team first mantra of “tougher together” and the players are putting themselves before the team.

When asked about expectations for himself this season, Thybulle quickly diverted the attention back to team goals.

“If I had to say one goal, I think as a team is just the tournament!  It’s something that really excites me and a lot of these guys because we haven’t been able to make it in a long time.

It should be a highly successful season for the Huskies and when March Madness hits, they fully expect to be dancing!

“People talk about having 95 percent of the scoring back, which is great, a veteran team, but still only 34 games under our regime. Still a lot of growth and trying to raise the standard, trying to build upon what we built on last year.  Our standard, until we win it, I will never be happy. So you’re constantly striving to raise the bar and get better. That’s what we’ve been focused on.” Coach Hopkins said about trying to achieve success.

One thing is for sure, these Huskies are not backing away from high expectations heading into the season but rather tackling them head-on.

Just that aspect alone is encouraging and shows that Hopkins culture change on Montlake is real!  Without that change in year one, then expectations would be quickly tempered and not met with enthusiasm!

“It wasn’t just the belief; we had a chip on our shoulder. You can never lose that. You’ve got to go out there with something to prove. We haven’t done anything yet. That’s the message.” Coach Hopkins said last week.