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Andy Katz | Correspondent | February 9, 2018

Podcast: Mike Hopkins breaks down hot start at Washington

  Mike Hopkins' Washington Huskies have exceeded outside expectations this season.

Mike Hopkins’ 4-5 substitute record as Syracuse coach two years ago was the impetus for him landing his own coaching job.

And Washington was the perfect one he said he sought once it became available because it had his three Ps: people, place and potential. Hopkins made these comments during the latest Sports podcast March Madness 365.

Hopkins, who was the head coach in waiting at Syracuse under his mentor Jim Boeheim, filled in for Boeheim during the Hall of Fame coach’s nine-game suspension during the 2015-16 season. Hopkins said he was judged on his record. And he knew he would be critiqued. But he loved every second of it and the pressure, stress, planning and coaching aspect was the motivation for him to look for his own spot.

Boeheim ultimately would be offered the chance to extend his retirement beyond 2018 by athletic director John Wildhack once Hopkins took the Washington job in the spring of 2017.

“It was great to test drive the Tesla at a high level,’’ said Hopkins of his nine-game stint as head coach at Syracuse. “I learned that the reality is people aren’t always going to love you.’’

Hopkins said he learned about the scrutiny of being a head coach, whether it was fair or not.

“I also learned that life is short, be happy, be excited to coach and try to inspire the kids and manage the process,’’ said Hopkins. “Going through that process got me thinking, ‘Gosh I’d love to have my own program and just go do this thing and go do it.’’’

And he is. The Huskies are one of the surprise stories in college basketball this season with wins over Kansas in Kansas City, a home sweep of Arizona State and Arizona and wins at Colorado and USC, which tend to be tough outs for Pac-12 schools. The Huskies, who lost at Oregon Thursday night, should be in the NCAA tournament and that's where they sit in our latest Bubble breakdown.

Washington was the perfect fit for Hopkins, who said his father grew up in Seattle, his mother was born in Seattle and his family vacationed in the area when he was a child.

“I go back and look that I was at Syracuse for so long and I was a year from taking it over,’’ said Hopkins. “And the jokes were that I was the coach in waiting for 19 years. But the reality is that I learned from a legend every day and then I had the opportunity be with USA Basketball for eight years (when Boeheim was a National Olympic team assistant). I was around two of the greatest coaches of all time (the other being Hall of Fame and then USA national head coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke) and young NBA coaches and then watch Jerry Colangelo manage and produce a culture of basketball. It was like going to Harvard grad school for basketball. I wouldn’t trade it for the world but it really prepared me for this opportunity.’’

Washington is using a similar zone to what Syracuse runs. Dominic Green told in a Skype session earlier in the week that the principles did take some time to learn.

Hopkins said one of the toughest things for players is that they have to realize they are going out to defend from the zone, rather than collapsing in on a shooter in the middle of the lane — a shot that is tough for players to make. But Hopkins also said they will adjust and still try to take a shot away from opposing teams, depending on the personnel.

MORE: Full hoops coverage

Tennessee coach Rick Barnes also joined the podcast and discussed how he knew as soon as he was getting fired at Texas that he had another job lined up.

“This opportunity was available when I started to hear all the rumors,’’ Barnes said of his pending firing in 2015 by former athletic director Steve Patterson after 17 years in Austin. “I was told I was going to be at Texas for as long as I wanted to be there. But then within a day or so, things started to switch around. And the week before that started happening, I had contact with the University of Tennessee. I knew the day at the press conference at Texas. I knew I was going to walk out the door and get on a plane and head to Knoxville, Tennessee. I knew that.’’

Barnes, who is a man of deep faith and who relied on this beliefs that he would land well, said he knew he was also taking a ready-made staff of veteran coaches who had worked for him. That’s why he said he was bringing a whole team with him to work at Tennessee, and make any transition smoother.

“We brought a program,’’ said Barnes. “It wasn’t just me coming.’’

The Vols are alone in second place in the SEC with an 8-3 record after beating Kentucky earlier in the week to give them a season series sweep of the Wildcats.

DI Men's Basketball: Tennessee battles past Kentucky 61-59

South Florida assistant coach Tom Herrion also joined the podcast to discuss the initiative to raise awareness for autism that will go on this weekend in college basketball. Herrion said over 400 coaches at all levels of basketball have committed to wearing the autism speaks puzzle piece to draw awareness of the behavioral disorder. Herrion, whose 12-year old son Robert is on the spectrum and his good friend Towson coach Pat Skerry, whose son Owen is also on the autism spectrum, started the awareness push for coaches five years ago.

Herrion said it was word of mouth then, but now hundreds of coaches are reaching out to help. The goal is not just awareness but also to educate and to create acceptance for those with the behavioral disorder.

Herrion discussed the stress that can be on coaching families, just like every other family that deals with a child on the spectrum, especially when moving jobs.

“I’ve had coaches reach out to me about it,’’ said Herrion. “If you decide to make a career move or there is a job opportunity in a new city, you can’t always just pick up and go and figure it out later. Maybe some can. But you’ve to look at the school system, what services, how strong are they.’’

Herrion added that they have been overwhelmed by the coaching community's outreach.

“The support we got across the board for Pat and I has become very humbling,’’ said Herrion. “The big piece is not only awareness but also acceptance. We’re making progress on that.’’

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