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Mike Lopresti | | December 7, 2017

How rookie coaches are faring after their first month of play

After a 7-2 start and a win over No. 2 Kansas, Mike Hopkins and the Huskies are on a roll in his debut season.

Time to check in on the rookies of 2017-18. The guys getting their first chance to coach Division I college basketball, meaning they’re hitting the one-month mark of their debut seasons.

So how it’s going out there?

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Only one place to start -- Wednesday night in Lawrence, Kan.

Kansas was unbeaten and ranked No. 2. Kansas was at home, where the Jayhawks drop a game about once every generation. Kansas was playing Washington, a team that lost 22 times last season, and had been picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12, with Markelle Fultz off to the NBA.

Washington 74, Kansas 65. Say hello to Mike Hopkins.

For 22 years, he sat at the right hand of Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, as the presumed successor. And just when it was getting time soon to move up, Hopkins jetted across the continent to take over a Washington program in some disarray. “It was like speed dating,” he said at the time. “You don’t usually see a lot of results with speed dating.”

But just look at this budding romance. Washington might have struggled against the likes of Seattle and Belmont and been blasted 103-79 by Virginia Tech, but the Huskies are 7-2. And nobody goes into Kansas and wins without being onto something. Washington had not beaten the Jayhawks since 1974.

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“Basically from the beginning of the season, we knew it was going to be on us to believe in us, and we weren’t going to have help from the outside,” the Huskies’ Matisse Thybulle said after scoring 19 points. “I think every day we just come out trying to prove it, and tonight was a great night to do that.”

If a guy learns anything while spending time around Boeheim, it’s how to play zone defense. Which Washington did Wednesday, extending out to frustrate Kansas’ shooters. “Kryptonite of the zone,” Hopkins called the 3-pointer. The Jayhawks went 5-for-20.

Just the other night, Kansas had rolled with 11 3-pointers over a zone. Against who? Syracuse.

So Hopkins had his first moment of magic. He’s not the only rookie on a roll.

Barret Peery, for instance. One minute he’s getting his opportunity at Portland State, the next he’s beating Stanford, playing Butler to two points and leading Duke at halftime.

He’s started 7-2 and is in charge of maybe the biggest pack of thieves in the west since Butch and Sundance. The Vikings had 20 steals Wednesday night beating Loyola Marymount, and average nearly 14 a game to lead the nation.

“Our time is now,” he said before the season. “Our time will always be now.”

Or Brian Dutcher. The patient one. He was with Steve Fisher for nearly two decades at San Diego State, and now is getting his chance at the age of 58. “They say the hardest distance to travel in basketball is that 18 inches from the assistant coaching chair to the head coaching chair,” he said the day he was introduced. “Well, it’s taken me 18 years to travel that 18 inches here.”

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One of the first things he did was juice the offense. The Aztecs averaged under 70 points a game in four of the past five seasons, preferring their winning to be deliberate and steady. Now they’re at 80.8 – the school’s highest in 33 years. Dutcher is 7-2 and making jokes about the bowl-bound football coach. “If I can win three more games and go 10-2,” he said, “I’ll have the same record Rocky (Long) has.”

Or Patrick Ewing. Can he really be 55? Wasn’t it only yesterday he was standing there in shock in Lexington as a player, after Villanova had missed one shot the second half to take down Georgetown?

Late came more legend-building in the NBA. Now he has his alma mater 6-0 in his maiden run, outscoring opponents by 20 points a game and outrebounding them by 12. And even if the schedule so far has been mostly a tray of pastry, the Hoyas needed the confidence after last season’s 14-18.

Mike Boynton is 7-1 at Oklahoma State. Eddie Sutton didn’t start any better; high praise in Stillwater. The Cowboys have trailed only 2:23 in six home games. That’s one way to keep the honeymoon going.

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Ewing’s sixth win came the other night in the Final Four Most Outstanding Player Classic. He won it in ’84. On the other bench was the guy who won it for Maryland in 2002 – Juan Dixon.

Dixon’s first season at Coppin State so far has been a little less fun than the guys mentioned above. Try 0-9, against such beefy opponents as Oregon and Cincinnati. Rule of James Naismith’s thumb: The game is a lot harder when the ball won’t go in. Coppin State is shooting 31.2 percent for the season, and averaging 52.7 points a game. Both last in the nation.

Also off to a bumpy start is one of the few – if not only – Division I coaches to ever have his own IMDb page as an actor. Wyking Jones has been in more than 25 commercials and owns credits in four movies. He also scored more than a thousand points a player at Loyola Marymount. Now he’s coaching California.

The Bears had Wichita State down by 18 in Maui, but ended up losing by 10. Two days later, they lost by 24 points to Chaminade, and Jones’ anger afterward was not acting.

“All the years I’ve been coaching, I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life from the lack of effort for our guys,” he said. “For me, it’s going back to the drawing board.”

California is 3-6 after losing by 27 points Wednesday night to Central Arkansas. At home. “Major, major setback,” Jones said. “We’re young, but we can’t keep using that as an excuse.”

Hollywood wasn’t this frustrating. But there, you could always ask for another take.

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Among the other first-year men having traveled various roads, there’s Mike Dunleavy’s son Baker, who went into the business world at Merrill Lynch before hooking up with Jay Wright as a Villanova assistant. He’s 3-6 out of the gate at Quinnipiac.

C.B. McGrath, who walked on at Kansas and ended up playing 112 games for Roy Williams, then spent much of his young adult life on Williams’ staff at North Carolina. McGrath is 2-4 at UNC Wilmington.

Pat Baldwin, the Northwestern career leader in steals, who is 6-3 at Milwaukee.

Jean Prioleau, the Fordham physics major, who is 2-6 at San Jose State.

And then, there is the guy who suddenly landed in probably the oddest coaching situation of anyone. When the roof caved in on Rick Pitino at Louisville, the school’s high command pointed at assistant David Padgett and asked him to do his best. They’ll get around to a permanent fix later.

Not the easiest spot for a 32-year-old, even if he is 6-11 and once helped get the Cardinals to the Elite Eight as a player. If Ewing weren’t around, Padgett would be the tallest new coach in America.

The 5-2 start has been decent enough, with tough defeats at Purdue and against Seton Hall that got away at the end. Padgett has avoided discussing the unusual dynamics of his own situation. “It’s not about me. It’s about the team. I’m not doing anything on the court,” he said.

His players are on board. “It’s a learning curve for us, as well as for him,” Anas Mahmoud said.

Those who understand his challenge the best might be the guys he’s trying to beat.

Seton Hall’s Kevin Willard: “It’s an unbelievably hard situation that David’s been put in...He’s a former player, he’s a three-time captain, he comes from a basketball family, he’s a first-class person. I think for what the city has gone through, what the university has gone through and most importantly what those players have gone through, David’s the right guy.”

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Purdue’s Matt Painter: “Sometimes the world flips around differently and you get opportunities. I got the Southern Illinois job because Roy Williams left Kansas and went to North Carolina and Bill Self left Illinois and went to Kansas and Bruce Weber left Southern Illinois and went to Illinois. So I was sitting there. That’s how I started my career.

“The one thing he has is players. Embrace that and enjoy a bunch of games. If he can get that job, great. But if he can’t, people will look at him and his maturity and the polish and the professionalism and his ability to coach. He’s also auditioning for someplace else.”

Life gets only more challenging for the rookies. Hopkins and Washington won’t have much time to savor the trip to Kansas. Not with Gonzaga on Sunday. Boynton and Oklahoma State’s home dominance will be severely tested Saturday when Wichita State visits. Ewing’s joy ride at Georgetown will get tougher with Syracuse next week. And there are only 21 shopping days until Padgett coaches in Rupp Arena against Kentucky. Before that, he has Indiana.

Like all the first-year coaches, Padgett is looking for any sign he is going the right direction. Well, here’s one.

He has the same birthday as Mike Krzyzewski, if that helps.

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