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Putting Behind Hoop Horrors Them, Huskies Open New Season

Mike Hopkins' team will play four home games in 10 nights to get started.

Coming off a 5-21 disaster of a season, who would have thought that the University of Washington basketball team would be the revenue-producing sport generating the most positive vibe around Montlake these days?

With UW football in turmoil and circling the wagons, Mike Hopkins' Huskies open the season tonight at 7 at Alaska Airlines Arena against Northern Illinois, also the Huskies and coming off an equally distressing campaign in which it finished 3-16.

Call this the battle of the reclamation projects. 

This marks the first of four games for the Huskies, all at home, over the next 10 days. They face Northern Arizona on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Texas Southern on Monday at 6 and Wyoming the following Thursday at 8.  

Give Hopkins credit, he jumped into a most unique rebuilding project by enticing four former Seattle-Tacoma players, all seasoned and fairly productive at established programs elsewhere, to return home and form the basis for a new team with a tight bond.

The coach started three of his newcomers — 6-foot-7 forward Emmitt Matthews (West Virginia) and 6-foot-3 guards Terrell Brown (Arizona) and Daejon Davis (Stanford) — in last week's 83-50 exhibition victory over Central Washington. The topped the team with 12, 17 and 10 points.

The fourth incoming Division I transfer, 6-foot-4 guard PJ Fuller (TCU), was one of the first off the bench and is capable of starting whenever needed.

Replacing six UW players who transferred out, the new guys have greatly increased the tempo, seemed to readily adjust to Hopkins' 2-3 zone defense and, because they've played together since middle school, have introduced a cohesive style of play that was sorely missing last year. They also threw out a zone press bothered Central.

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The Huskies have two other new players who will log significant minutes if not find their way into the opening lineup before long in 6-foot-10 true freshman forward Jackson Grant and 6-foot-9 junior-college transfer Langston Wilson.

Each player appeared sufficiently skilled to make a big difference and will go a long way to improving the UW front line, which was overmatched all last season.

Grant, in particular, looks like he has star quality stamped all over him. He blocked 3 shots and threw down a dunk in his Husky debut. 

Returning players are 6-foot-11 junior center Nate Roberts and 6-foot-6 senior guard Jamal Bey, both holdover starters from last season and against Central. Roberts had 12 rebounds and Bey 10 points, doing what they do best.

Yet these returning UW players can expect to be pressed to stay in the opening lineup with all the new infusion of bodies.

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