Good coaches often learn the basics of their trade from someone similar growing up.
Mike Hopkins helped the Mater Dei boys’ basketball team and coach Gary McKnight win their first state title when he played for the Monarchs 30 years ago, and this spring Hopkins became the most high-profile head coach ever to graduate from the school.
Hopkins was hired at Washington on March 17, his first head-coaching job after spending the past 22 seasons as an assistant at Syracuse.
“I believe we can build something very special in Seattle,” Hopkins said after he was hired. “I can’t wait to get started.”
Hopkins, 47, graduated from Mater Dei in 1988, a year after the Monarchs won their first state championship. He went on to play for four years at Syracuse before graduating in 1993. He returned to Syracuse three years later as an assistant coach.
He spent the next two decades working alongside legendary coach Jim Boeheim and was set to succeed the future Hall of Famer, but couldn’t pass up the offer to become a head coach at a Pac-12 Conference school, even if it was 3,000 miles away.
The Huskies couldn’t pass on Hopkins either.
“His resume 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,” Washington athletic director Jennifer Cohen said in a statement.
When he was at Mater Dei, Hopkins was known more for taking charges and diving for loose balls than scoring or rebounding. That made Boeheim somewhat leery when McKnight recommended Hopkins to the Orangemen.
Boeheim gave Hopkins a shot anyway.
“If it wasn’t for Gary, I never would have been there,” Hopkins told the Orange County Register last summer. “Syracuse took a chance on me, and it ended up working out. That’s what made it so special.”
Hopkins visits McKnight at his alma mater at least twice a year, and those encounters should increase with Washington traveling to Southern California at least once a season to play conference games against USC and UCLA.
Hopkins could probably use some of the talent McKnight is currently developing at Mater Dei. He inherits a Washington team that finished 9-22 last season and ended the year on a 13-game losing streak, prompting the Huskies to fire Lorenzo Romar, who was the Pac-12 coach of the year three times in his 15 seasons with Washington.
The Huskies are expected to return all but two players from last season’s team, and Hopkins scored his first recruiting victory when he encouraged 6-foot-8 forward Noah Dickerson, one of the team’s best players the past two seasons, to return for his junior year instead of transferring.
Another former Mater Dei player under McKnight continues to climb the career ladder as a coach.
Miles Simon coached the USA Junior National Select Team that beat the World Select Team at the Nike Hoop Summit on April 7. It was Simon’s fourth USA Basketball coaching assignment.
Simon, 41, graduated from Mater Dei in 1994 and went on to star at Arizona, leading the Wildcats to the NCAA title in 1997.