Syracuse basketball, for the long term, just dodged two big bullets. A pair of SoCal jobs in the Pac-12 opened, Syracuse was once again dancing deep into the tourney, and Cali native Mike Hopkins didn’t nail either. For those of us in Orange Nation that believe he will be a fine successor to Jim Boeheim, this is a big victory.
Rumors surfaced early in the month connecting Hop to the USC job. There are some that believe the Trojans are a sleeping giant, located in the heart of elite recruiting country, and deep athletic budgets. But the Trojans passed on Hop and hired Andy Enfield, the hot new commodity that led FGCU to the Sweet 16. Nice buzz, fun style of play… but does he really have the resume Hop does?
Jim Boeheim doesn’t think so.
“Mike is 10 times better than anyone they could have hired. I’m not disappointed because he’ll be coaching here soon.”
Ben Howland went to three straight Final Fours, but the magic waned in Westwood and UCLA decided to go in a different direction. The Bruins also ignored Hop and went with a coach, Steve Alford, known more for NITs and early round exits than anything else. UCLA will always be a college hoops gem, and maybe it needed a bigger name. But did another tourney choke job impress the Bruins more than Hop’s time under The Per’fesser?
There’s no guarantee Hop was a serious candidate for either job. But he comes with great credentials, and Syracuse recruiting has never been healthier. While he doesn’t have head coaching experience, he’s a native SoCal kid, meaning he’d likely be in it for the long haul and would understand the landscape far better than Indiana-bred Alford or Pennsylvania boy Enfield.
The fact that Boeheim said “he’ll be coaching here soon” makes you wonder about the unspoken agreement we’ve all assumed is true. When JB leaves, Hop gets the gig no questions asked. There’s no search, no outside candidates. Just Hop. Boeheim told Ian O’Connor at the Big East Tourney a few seasons ago he wouldn’t be on that same podium, answering the same questions “four years from now.” Well, that hour glass is almost up.
It doesn’t quite feel like Boeheim is on his way out, unless he wins the title and wants to go out in style. The program is too good. This must be so energizing for him.
So there was always the possibility Hop got itchy and jumped at one of the SoCal schools. They were both open the same month SU was going back to the Final Four. He was once again a top candidate. He’s still an Orange. If he didn’t leave now, it’s probably never going to happen. And that’s good news for SU.