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COVID Aside, Husky Basketball Needs to Get Well

Loser of 39 of his past 51 games, Mike Hopkins doesn't have too many chances left.
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A month into another taxing University of Washington basketball season, with the pandemic wiping out Sunday afternoon's UCLA game at Alaska Airlines Arena and unwilling to leave this team alone, some rudimentary observations about this group are necessary before play resumes.

This average UW team still should be no worse than 8-0 or 7-1 at this point, not 4-4.

That's not misguided hype, rather it should be the benefit of playing an underwhelming non-conference schedule filled mostly with geographically christened lightweights in Northern Illinois, Northern Arizona, Texas Southern and South Dakota State. 

Into his fifth season as coach, Mike Hopkins says these Huskies, once they receive medical clearance again, will be pretty good.

He'll need to make some changes. Hopkins repeatedly plays the wrong guys. 

A year ago, he insisted on using a limited talent in forward Hameir Wright as a UW starter for 25 of 26 games and gave him free rein to launch 3-pointers that wouldn't drop.

Today, Wright can't get off the bench at North Texas and rarely is permitted to launch shots from behind the line.

Hopkins now chooses to start 6-foot-11, 265-pound junior Nate Roberts, a player unable to create his own shots and unfailingly foul prone, where the coach should use him in relief, in spurts.

Offensively, it's like playing 4-on-5, always a disadvantage.

A pre-game UW ritual is letting a manager dunk, with help.

A pre-game UW ritual is letting a manager dunk, with help.

Hopkins should be starting PJ Fuller and Jackson Grant in place of Jamal Bey and Roberts. 

Fuller is one of the most aggressive players on the team, Bey, while adequately skilled, one of the most passive.

That position swap is a no-brainer.

The other one is an absolute necessity.

The 6-foot-10 Grant, a McDonald's All-American from Olympia High School in the state capital, needs to play. 

He's a big man who can put the ball in the basket.

Unlike Roberts, he has a fundamentally sound mid-range jumper and inside moves. 

Hopkins needs to put him in the lineup, suffer with him, season him as he goes.

It's what previous UW coaches did with promising big men James Edwards, Christian Welp and Todd MacCulloch. 

They let them play and make mistakes, made them four-year starters, flourished with them, sent them to the NBA.

Without a post player providing any semblance of points, these Huskies will be lucky to finish as a .500 team. 

Hopkins needs to lose whatever upperclassman loyalty he feels to his holdover guys who aren't performing at the highest level. Six players hitting the transfer portal as fast as they could last March should have taught him that.

Tougher together?

No, totally untethered. 

His starting lineup should be all newcomers: veterans Terrell Brown Jr. (Arizona, Seattle U), Emmitt Matthews Jr. (West Virginia), Daejon Davis (Stanford), Fuller (TCU) and Grant the youngster.

Five scorers. 

Let them run and press. 

Make them play at all times like they did against George Mason — like the 1981 Oregon State Beavers who went 26-2 by whipping the ball around the perimeter without ever letting it touch the floor, always sharing it and getting rewarded.

Once all of the Huskies get healthy again, they need to do something to bring the fans back. 

The crowd was embarrassingly low, in the hundreds, to watch the Huskies host Texas Southern on a Monday night in mid-November.

Socially distancing took on an unpleasant new meaning that evening.

Let the UW followers see the four transfers with Seattle ties turn up the tempo and young Grant mature in front of their eyes.

More than ever, Hopkins needs to question some of the things he does, get a better read on his manpower and find ways to win again consistently. 

It's been a while. 

Alaska Airlines Arena has had only smallish crowds.

Alaska Airlines Arena had drawn only smallish crowds so far. 

Hopkins somehow survived last season's 5-21 atrocity, which is normally a firing offense. He's lost 39 of his past 51 games over three seasons and still draws a paycheck, which is nothing short of miraculous.

On game night, the clock is ticking on each shot, each half-court possession, each game. 

It's also about to run out on Hopkins unless he gets over his head-coaching stubbornness and tries something a little different, fills the arena with warm bodies and brings long-overdue results.

He's made a bunch of recruiting mistakes. Remember Elijah Hardy and Bryan Penn-Johnson? Hardy's on his third team now, BPJ doesn't play anymore.

Hopkins needs to make up for these shortcomings with coaching genius, stuff he learned at Syracuse from Jim Boeheim. 

Honestly, he doesn't have many chances left.

If not, we'll see another news conference like the one held at the UW this past week, introducing someone to fix the football team.

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