Hopkins brings new defense, culture to Washington

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UCLA's T.J. Leaf scores two of his 20 points against Washington at Alaska Airlines Arena on Saturday, Feb. 4, 2017. UCLA won, 107-66. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/TNS)

SEATTLE (AP) — First-year Washington men’s basketball coach Mike Hopkins hopes to install more than the trademark zone defense he learned during his long tenure as an assistant at Syracuse.

Hopkins, who worked at Syracuse for 22 years under Jim Boeheim, succeeds Lorenzo Romar, who was fired after 15 seasons. Despite having Markelle Fultz, the one-and-done guard who became the No. 1-overall pick in the NBA draft, the Huskies finished 9-22 and closed with a school-record 13 consecutive losses en route to an 11th-place finish in the Pac-12 last year.

“Whatever happened last year, is last year,” Hopkins said Tuesday at the team’s media day. “We’re looking forward. We’re always moving forward. One of our things, and I keep going back to our culture, but it doesn’t matter, get better. It doesn’t matter, get better. I stay away from the past. I focus on the future.”

Adapting to the 2-3 zone defense has been a challenge, especially for returning players, Hopkins said.

“Everybody here is learning a new system,” Hopkins said. “A lot of the players, they end up being freshmen again because they’re learning from our zone to our press to how we’re going to play offensively, defensively. I think they’ve made the transition pretty smooth.”

The Huskies return three starters, junior point guard David Crisp (13.8 points per game), junior forward Noah Dickerson (12.5 points and a team-high 8.2 rebounds), and junior guard Matisse Thybulle (10.5 points).

Convincing returning players to stay, as well as retaining commitments from recruits, including top local high school guards Jaylen Nowell and Michael Carter, were a top priority for Hopkins.

“We were able to retain the team and then when Jaylen decided to renew his commitment, I just think it was one of those moments where a local kid, great player, wants his family to see him play, and then he believes in the new staff, just kind of sent a message,” Hopkins said.

Another local recruit, 6-10 forward Michael Porter Jr., considered by some to be the nation’s top high school prospect, and whose father was a first-year assistant on Romar’s staff, reconsidered and committed to Missouri.

“First off, when coach Hop came and visited my school at Garfield, he really sold me on what he was bringing, as a school, as a team,” said Nowell. “When he was talking about that, I really felt intrigued and I just felt like this was really the right place for me.”

Crisp, who led the Huskies last season with 77 3-pointers, relishes the challenge of learning the nuances of the zone defense.

“Anything that’s going to help us win,” Crisp said. “He’s coming in with his approach and his culture and I’m fully bought in. He’s been on winning programs, so he knows what it takes, he knows what it looks like. I’m just following the lead.”

The Huskies, who were picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 in the preseason media poll, open the season at home against Belmont on Nov. 10.

“The kids, from day I got in, have worked really hard,” Hopkins said. “They’ve really bought into the culture of family, unselfish action, playing together — those types of things. I’m very proud of the work they put in. It’s right around the corner, we’re really excited to get on that court and start playing.”

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