It isn’t Randy Bennett, Leon Rice or Eric Musselman — or any other candidate with a name familiar to basketball observers on the west coast.
Instead, Washington Huskies athletic director Jen Cohen went all the way to New York to find the school’s new men’s basketball coach, announcing Sunday that Mike Hopkins, a longtime Syracuse assistant and the head coach-in-waiting behind Jim Boeheim, will leave his alma mater for the opportunity to revive a struggling UW program.
Hopkins replaces Lorenzo Romar, whom UW fired Wednesday after 15 seasons. An introductory press conference will be held this week.
“I’m extremely excited to welcome Mike and his family to Seattle,” Cohen said in a statement released by the school. “His résumé and reputation within the basketball community made him stand out to us, but ultimately it was his vision for Washington, his passion for teaching and developing student-athletes and his close alignment with the core values of our institution and department that made it more than clear that he was the right fit for us.”
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Hopkins, 47, grew up in Laguna Hills, California, and attended Mater Dei High School, where he helped win the 1987 state championship before a four-year playing career at Syracuse from 1989-93. He joined Boeheim’s staff in 1995, the beginning of a 22-season tenure in which he helped recruit and develop some of the Orange’s most notable players — Carmelo Anthony, Rakeem Christmas, Hakim Warrick, Michael Carter-Williams, Gerry McNamara and Jonny Flynn among them.
Hopkins is well-respected in basketball coaching circles, to the extent that Syracuse in June 2015 formally named him the “head coach-designate” behind Boeheim, who had planned to retire following the 2017-18 season before the school announced Sunday that his contract has been extended beyond that date.
“The University of Washington is such a unique place, with a world-class university, an exciting basketball history and unbelievable fan support,” Hopkins said in a statement. “Together, I believe we can build something very special in Seattle, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Hopkins served as the Orange’s interim head coach during the 2015-16 season while Boeheim was serving a nine-game suspension for violating NCAA rules. Those sanctions — the NCAA alleged a lack of institutional control and punished Boeheim for failing to promote a culture of compliance regarding academics, extra benefits and the school’s drug-testing policy — also included the vacation of 108 victories and a reduction of eight scholarships over a four-year period, though Hopkins was not implicated in the scandal.
Hopkins’ departure from Syracuse surprised many, though he explored other head coaching opportunities in the past. He was strongly considered for the USC job in 2013 before the school hired Andy Enfield from Florida Gulf Coast, and Hopkins was a finalist for the Oregon State job in 2014 before OSU chose Montana coach Wayne Tinkle. Hopkins also was linked to the vacancy at Boston College that same year.
In a Syracuse.com story dated March 27, 2014, Hopkins said it would take “a perfect storm” for him to leave Syracuse: “If I go, I’m going to a place where I feel I can be forever and win forever. That’s my philosophy. To leave this place — for what it’s done for me and because I love it so much — it would have to be pretty special.”
During Hopkins’ time at Syracuse, the Orange played in the NCAA Tournament 16 times, including four Final Four appearances and the 2003 national title.
In UW’s official release announcing his hire, Hopkins — who has often spoken of Boeheim in reverential tones — thanked his now-former boss “for so many years of mentorship and guidance” and said “the timing is right for me and my family to make this move.”
ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported that Hopkins and UW agreed to a six-year contract. Details were not yet available. No assistant coach hires have been announced, either, though Hopkins is believed to be considering retaining Will Conroy, who worked the past two seasons as an assistant under Romar and was designated the program’s “point person” in the wake of Romar’s firing.
Hopkins and his wife, Tricia, have three children: sons Michael Griffith Jr. and Grant Richard and daughter Ella Grace.