2018 Pac-12 Men's Basketball Media Day: Experienced Washington team facing high expectations
SAN FRANCISCO — At 2018 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day, Washington coach Mike Hopkins recalled how lonely he was at the podium for 2017 Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day.
“Last year I think I got one question and it took about 15 seconds. It was like ‘Hi, I’m Mike Hopkins, who are you?’” Hopkins joked.
The second-year Husky head honcho had a lot more questions to answer in 2018 after blowing away expectations in his first year at the helm. Picked to finish 10th, the Huskies soared past the preseason projections en route to a 10-8 conference record that had the Dawgs just one game out of a bye for the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament.
Normally, you’d think that either seniors or departing-for-the-NBA-Draft underclassmen would have been major contributors to a team with that kind of turnaround. Not the case in Seattle — the Huskies are returning a whopping 96 percent of their scoring and minutes played, better than 95 percent of their rebounding, assists, threes, blocks and steals and all five of their starters from 2017-18.
“It’s exciting, because we set a great foundation last year and we just build off of that. We got to know each other well and play with each other well and I think just being able to build off that is exciting,” said senior Matisse Thybulle, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year after setting a school record with 101 steals. “It should be scary for other teams.”
"He raises the energy level in every room he comes to."
— Washington Men's Basketball (@UW_MBB) October 11, 2018
Getting that much returning production from a team that was in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth deep into the regular season has many projecting the Huskies to be a contender for the Pac-12 title. Indeed, the media picked the Huskies to finish third in the Pac-12 this season, garnering two first-place votes in the process.
But given the way things went last year, the Huskies know firsthand how little expectations mean when it comes to on-court results. Sophomore Jaylen Nowell says the Huskies are going to have to earn it on the floor.
“It’s honestly all the same. We still have that chip on our shoulder, no matter if we were first, sixth or 12th,” said Nowell, a Pac-12 All-Freshman selection last season and Pac-12 Freshman of the Year runner-up. “At the end of the day, we don’t really care who’s ranked at what, we’re always gonna compete.”
The Huskies haven’t made the NCAA Tournament since 2011, but that drought has a good chance of ending this year with all the firepower coming back to Montlake.
“Last year, we were teaching them how to win. This year, we are teaching them how to handle expectations, so it will be a new learning curve,” Hopkin said. “The kids have worked really hard and playing well together and I’m happy for their success but predictions don’t mean anything. We gotta go out there and prove it, and we have a pretty tough non-conference schedule, so we’re excited for that.”