Just when you thought the Orange’s NIT season-ending loss would dominate the water cooler talk, a much bigger bomb hit the Central New York area. With supposed head coach in waiting Mike Hopkins taking the opening at Washington, this begs the following observation: the split between Hop and Syracuse makes too much sense.
After more than 20 years as an assistant at one of the premier basketball programs, Hopkins has always been a prime head coaching candidate. He has turned down multiple offers to take head jobs at quality universities where he could come out of Jim Boeheim’s shadow, this just happens to be the one that Hopkins bit on. It’s a great starting gig for Hopkins. He gets a Power Five school with little basketball tradition. This is Hopkins chance to build his own legacy without much pressure from above. He also has the chance to change the culture of a program that hasn’t sniffed the NCAA Tournament since 2011 and hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since Dwight Eisenhower was in the White House. While Hopkins won’t be coaching Markelle Fultz, he begins with a top five recruiting class that boasts the nation’s top prospect in Michael Porter Jr. Porter is accompanied by three other four stars to give the Huskies four of ESPN’s Top 100 recruits, while Syracuse currently sits with zero of those in the Class of 2017. While it is possible some of these recruits could leave with a new tenure, I wouldn’t bank on it given the ties Hopkins has and the respect he garners around the country.
One of those attractive ties that would make any program want to have Hopkins as its head coach is his work with USA Basketball. Hopkins serves as an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski, which helps lure recruits because of the future it holds. Clear proof of this is Jerami Grant. The former Orange forward was a part of the USA Select Team this summer, despite averaging just 7.3 points per game over his career.
Despite Hop’s departure, don’t rule out a comeback. This is a program he’s been beyond loyal to, and the Orange should pay that respect back to him. For all we know, this could be a test job to prime him to be Boeheim’s replacement. We saw something similar happen with Brad Underwood. The Illinois’ coach-to-be signed a five year deal with Oklahoma State and led the Cowboys to the big dance in year one, but bolted to the Illini after just one season. It’s not far-fetched to think Hopkins could return to the program that he’s been a part of for all but a handful of years since 1989.
The goodbye shouldn’t come as a surprise, however, it might just be a “see you later.”