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October 11, 2018

Mike Hopkins

San Francisco, California

Q. Your thoughts on being picked third in the preseason conference poll? Is that high or low or just about where you thought?
MIKE HOPKINS: You know, I don't know. We obviously have a lot of returners but still trying to build, you know, what we're doing, raising the standard. But we're just focused on how we get better every day. I know it's the corny coaching cliché, but the reality of it is how do we get better.

Last year we were teaching them how to win; this year we're teaching them how to handle expectations. So it'll be a new learning curve, but the kids have worked really hard and playing well together. And I'm happy for their success, but predictions don't mean anything. We've got to go out there and prove it, and we've got a pretty tough non-conference schedule, so we're excited about that.

Q. How different is it for you to be here a year later? Last year obviously you came, just came off of nine wins, you guys were picked 10th, and now just 365 days later, here you are.
MIKE HOPKINS: I think for us, last year I think I got one question, and it took about 15 seconds. Like hi, I'm Mike Hopkins. Who are you? It's been a whirlwind. What you realize, it goes by fast, and that's what we try to tell these kids. Every day means something. You've got to get better. You've got to focus. We've got a great league. But I'm happy for them. They went out there, and they played and they won some games, but it's not where we want to be. We want to keep raising that standard. But it's nice to know that we're moving forward going in a positive direction.

Q. In your heart of hearts, did you have a timeline as to kind of where you wanted to --
MIKE HOPKINS: I don't think -- I think there's so many different factors, how quick are they going to learn a new system, how are they going to adapt, how are they going to play together, how are they going to respond. I think that was faster than expected. We tried to focus on how we could get better every day, and from early in the year we had a couple bumps and bruises and weren't playing so well, and then we started playing well.

With the expectations, it was just -- what we're trying to do is stay consistent with the message last year, is we've just got to get better, and now how do we manage that. We've got to work harder. We've got to work better together. We were last in the league in assists, we were last in the league in rebounding. Those are two areas that we've got to improve if we want to be an elite basketball team.

But these guys, we have a good freshman class. We've got eight returning players. That's a luxury in today's day and age. But I just think keeping them humble, hungry and wise and focused on getting better every day rather than getting focused on what we're rated, who's preseason this, who's preseason that. But at the end of the day, when people preseasoned us last year, we were 10th or 11th. And if we focused and played a very tough schedule, we've just got to focus on that, and I think we can have a very good year.

Q. Can experience win in college basketball?
MIKE HOPKINS: I think experience wins early, and then that's where freshmen and younger players are infused and where you -- you're either going to grow, how can you get better in certain areas. But I worked for a great coach in Jim Boeheim, and he used to say you win with veterans early, so to have a veteran team coming back, that's a luxury. We're excited about that. They've figured out how to win, now can they be consistent with that, and we'll see.

Q. Speaking of that returning -- 96 percent basically returning scorers, have you ever been a part of a staff that has had that much returning production?
MIKE HOPKINS: Well, I think I have at Syracuse. We had a lot of teams that have had that. I think the biggest thing was when you were trying to build a mindset and a culture, it's believing every year that you're going to be in contention to be in the national considerations. That's what we're trying to build.

How do we raise the standard of our culture and day-to-day operations, how do we operate, how together are we going to be. You know, you're just trying to raise the level in every area of your organization.

But like I said last year, without expectations, those kids learn ability, understanding system, believing in what we were doing. I was really, really happy about that, and I know the staff was, as well.

Q. Tell me a little bit about your preseason out-of-conference schedule; how involved were you, and was there anything in particular you were looking to do with that schedule?
MIKE HOPKINS: Well, what we wanted to do, we felt like last year we won regular season without conference, what were we, 20-11 going into the Pac-12 Conference, and we had games -- we beat Kansas, we had some really good wins, and we weren't able to be in the conversation. So we felt we had to upgrade our non-conference schedule. That was a critical part of it. We're trying to build a program that has a chance to play for a National Championship, and with the new metrics and all the non-conference talk, we wanted to upgrade that.

I feel like we've really done that. I don't know if you've -- you've seen it, there's a lot of good road games, great tests, but if we want to be a great team, that's what we're going to have to do. We're going to have to go learn to beat a good team on the road.

Q. Any games do you look at where you kind of go "whoa" or "wow" or --
MIKE HOPKINS: Last year when they gave me the schedule, when I took the job over, I'm like: We've got to get rid of that game, that game, that game, that game, and that game. And then it was like Belmont at home the first game of the year? Do they understand what that means? That guy is a legend coach and a program -- so, I mean, yeah, as a coach, I think you're always -- one of the greatest coaches, my mentor, it didn't matter who you were playing, there's always that sense if you don't play good, you could lose on any given night. That's how college basketball is, the parity, the league, so many good teams. But to be the best you've got to go out there and you've got to play the best, and that's what we're trying to build at the University of Washington.

Q. Mike, obviously Markelle Fultz was before your time, but obviously his name came up in the investigation. Do you have any idea where that could go?
MIKE HOPKINS: Well, the biggest thing is obviously we're aware of everything that's happened. We've been cooperating with the NCAA, and obviously they'll be dealing with whatever is coming out in terms of the facts of the case. But I haven't been in communication with the administrative staff in terms of that regard.

Q. In terms of recruiting players of that caliber that people look at as a certain one-and-done type player, what sort of antenna do you have to have for what can come along with that?
MIKE HOPKINS: There's -- I've been in this game for 21 years as an assistant coach, as a player, and I think there's so many rumors and things that people say, if you lose a recruit, oh, they were doing this. I think there's a lot of -- there is some truth to it in some situations, I'm sure, but I think a lot of it is also sore losing in recruiting. You know, a lot of times there's relationships that are in place that are a lot deeper.

I mean, that's how we recruit. You recruit with relationships, and I've got a staff where you've been with people for 20 and 30 years or local kids, and sometimes it's just the right fit. But I'm not a judge or a jury. I've heard a lot of rumors. People say they're paying him. Well, have you ever seen it? No. I just think that's been with the game for as long as I've been in the game.

Q. We've gotten past the rumor stage, there's under-oath testimony --
MIKE HOPKINS: Yeah, I agree.

Q. Is that a concern about --
MIKE HOPKINS: I just think we need to clean up the game. I think in anything that you do, in any business, there's always going to be the 80 percent average, you're always going to be the 10 percent good and the 10 percent bad. I think that's in anything that we do.

Q. Last year you leaned a Chris a lot handling the ball and running the team. We saw Jaylen step up a little bit more and do more of that. Is that something we can expect to see Jaylen do more of that this year?
MIKE HOPKINS: Yeah, we've got -- Jaylen obviously is an incredible player for us. We're trying to expand his game. I think he can help us at that position to back up David. We also has got a really good point guard in Elijah Hardy who we're -- we talked about earlier, you win with veterans, and you've got to bring up the younger guys, but we've got some young guys I think that can help us down the road. We'll see. We'll see how fast they grow.

Q. Last year you had Noah and Sam and Hameir. You've added some -- the size of some of your guys, and now all of a sudden you've got bigs. How are you going to use those guys?
MIKE HOPKINS: It goes back to how are you going to get the best players on the floor. The length is important, but they're also young, so there's going to be some growing pains. But we did -- Bryan Penn-Johnson has got a 7'7" wingspan, and rim protection is so important to how any team plays defense but especially the zone. Nate Roberts has been a great addition, Jamal Bey, who was Nevada State Player of the Year. He's really advanced.

This thing will play out. It usually does. Got a tough schedule early. We'll see who's ready to go.

Q. Eight returning guys --

Q. How do you find time for the other four?
MIKE HOPKINS: Listen, the bus isn't stopping for anybody, okay. If you've got to get extra film at the beginning or after, you're going to get that film. But you've just got to go out there, and we've got a veteran team and we can't slow them down. We've got to keep developing them, keep pushing them. Young guys tag along. You want to show that you're ready to play, you've got to show it a little bit earlier. But I think they've done a really good job of adapting. Any environment you create they'll adapt to it. It's just a matter if it's early or it's middle or it's late. But they're all really talented.

Q. You're smiling and laughing a little bit about those young guys because seeing what they have to go through, you know what it's about?
MIKE HOPKINS: Yeah, last year watching our freshmen, even Jaylen that go through the growing pains, you're watching them going, can he play? Is he any good? They keep fighting and keep getting better. I've got a great staff. They're developing them. And they can help us in a lot of different ways.

Q. Coach, your team has a lot of strengths. You mentioned one of the weaknesses last year in assists. Without like a true point guard, I know you talked about Hardy and some young players, but how do you work on passing as a group?
MIKE HOPKINS: We like to -- we use a term called one more, one more rep, one more pass, good to great, just trying to find the great one, and you've got to train it. We've got guys who can really score the basketball that aren't traditional positionally, but part of our culture is that sharing and caring piece, and you've got to emphasize it. We do a lot of drills where there's always an obvious open man, now can you find him.

Sometimes then -- how quick does it translate, that goes back to the learnability. It doesn't just happen, but --

Q. You were talking about it all last year.
MIKE HOPKINS: All last year, that's exactly right, and where do we improve. We were last in assists. We've got to find guys. Obviously you played, you know. Uncontested shots versus contested shots, what's the percentage differences?

Q. And it helps with chemistry, too, making that one extra pass and guys trust each other a little more.
MIKE HOPKINS: That's exactly right, and we're trying to build that.

Q. When you play a zone, it's difficult to rebound out of a zone --
MIKE HOPKINS: Yeah, sure.

Q. Even if you have length, would you agree with that? Why is it so difficult?
MIKE HOPKINS: It always has. It was interesting, we had played the year we won the National Championship, we played Texas and Kansas, Final Four, and Kansas, they were No. 1 and No. 2 rebounding teams in the country at the time, and I'm almost positive, you'll have to look back at the stats, but I think we out-rebounded them. That's how you had to win. It was transition defense versus Kansas's rebounding.

It's a mindset. That's another thing, first it was like installing the zone, okay, how do they adapt to it, do they get it, do they understand it, that's just the basic. Now it goes back to can they make adjustments out of it, and that's the thing that Coach Boeheim -- what was great is he could change on a dime and it was simple and he could take something away. Then it goes back to can they do that, and then it goes back to now taking out personnel, and then it goes back to can you rebound out of it.

I think the thing with us is trying to figure these guys out, trying to give them to have something that they can rely on, and then our personnel. A lot of times we had Noah Dickerson at the 5 who was 6'7", 6'8", him, Jaylen played in the back of the zone, 6'3", and they did a heck of a job. But when you become seven feet and then 6'9" on the wing and 6'8" here, then it becomes a little bit different.

But it's a mindset, most importantly.

Q. What did you do to Noah Dickerson, because he's about half of what he used to be.
MIKE HOPKINS: You know, I've got a great staff. We have got a great strength coach, Cam Dollar works with him, Will Conroy, Dave Rice. These guys work with him daily to get him prepared. He's a guy that he's not here today, probably should be. All-Pac-12, one of the best low post scoring big men in the country, and when he's on, he's on, and he gives you a weapon that no one else in the country has. He has it. When you've got that weapon, you've got to use it. It makes you sleep better at night.

Q. Have you noticed any difference in his game at the lighter weight?
MIKE HOPKINS: I just think he's got more energy. He's playing at a higher pace. His thing was you see this pace in dominance and then you slow off. How can you step on the pedal for longer periods of time.

When he's on, boy, he's a difference guy. He creates a double-team, which helps everybody else, and when he -- you single team him, he's going to score or get you in foul trouble. That was a huge luxury and one of the key reasons why we had the success we had last year.

Q. Not only physically, but does that weight loss and playing that -- does that impact him mentally at all?
MIKE HOPKINS: I think so, not only mentally, but the biggest thing is the guys, they see the best players on your team working the hardest, they see them changing their bodies.

That's the type of culture that we're trying to create, where your leaders show the best examples. The thing with Noah is not only can he score, he helps others around him get better. Against Kansas we went to him 29 times. 29 times. And he was assisting, passing out, making plays, and when you're getting double-teamed, the other guys are playing 4 against 3, and when he's unselfish and he can make others better, we're just a different team.

Q. Matisse talked a little bit about how your zone defense really helped him grow as a defender. Obviously Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Is there anything you did in the off-season to tweak the defense to give him more opportunities on defense?
MIKE HOPKINS: No, he was just Spider-Man. Like he's a superhero. Like he's created -- it's interesting, back when being part of the zone for so many years at Syracuse, it was that defense, it was like playing against the Princeton offense, they put us in the bracket with Princeton, it's going to be back-doored to death, and the zone has that mental piece. You saw Michigan State versus Syracuse this year in the tournament, and it's stifling when it's rolling. When the coaching staff recommended about putting Matisse up top, we were going against the grain. But he understood it, and his anticipation skills -- you know, it's just uncanny. It's become in the minds of your opponents, and that's when you know your defense is really good. He's just a disruptive guy.

He makes some plays that you kind of go -- you're on the coaching staff, and you go around and you look at each other like did you just see that? Is that real?

But it was their belief in it. If they don't believe in it, well, this is BS so we can -- that's the kid's character, how hard he plays. He's one of the greatest kids in the country, one of the greatest kids in the league.

Q. You mentioned Spider-Man over there. Any other Marvel characters or superheroes?
MIKE HOPKINS: Well, how about real life, we call him Deion Sanders up there. It was Deion Sanders, Spider-Man. And you know what, how many guys do you know take pride on the defensive end, and they become -- he's equivalent to like what Mutombo was as a shot blocker, blocks shots, steals, and I'm telling you, what that does, too, it's like the leader in that area just builds the confidence of everybody on that team, gets the energy going in the building. He does it. He can do it on both ends, but that defensive end, he's different.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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