After one of the worst seasons in school history, the Huskies could be facing an even tougher year. How will Mike Hopkins and the staff be able to turn it around?
After some time has passed and the damage from the 2020-21 season has been assessed, the Husky basketball team is in a very dangerous position. While it looks like the program could be down for years to come, there is always room for positivity and hope that the team can be turned around to contend in the Pac-12 next year, but it will be a tough road ahead.
Overall, the conference had one of its best seasons in recent years. The three teams reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament where UCLA reached the final four and came within a buzzer of beating Gonzaga to advance to the national championship.
This is exactly what the conference needed after being almost completely irrelevant in past seasons. UCLA is now ranked in the top five in severely different preseason polls heading into next season which is something that the conference has not had in a long time.
This will only make it harder for the Huskies to turn around and become a contender as UCLA along with USC, Oregon, Oregon State and Colorado are all expected to return talent and be at the top of the conference once again. But there is no reason the Huskies cannot be in the middle of the pack competing for an NCAA tournament at-large birth. So, what do they need to do in the meantime to make that a reality?
After losing five players to the transfer portal along with two contributing seniors, Mike Hopkins is faced with the challenge to fully rebuild the program. Thankfully, this is not the worst thing to happen considering it was clear that the group of players last season did not mesh well together. It looked as if the only way this team was going to improve was with a new group of players.
Hopkins has already made two additions from the transfer portal, adding former West Virginia forward Emmitt Matthews Jr. and former Arizona guard Terrell Brown Jr.
Matthews was originally the 177th overall ranked recruit out of Wilson High School in Tacoma. He started the majority of his games at West Virginia as a sophomore and junior, but never really broke out into the player most thought he could be. The hope is that Hopkins will be able to tap into his offensive potential to go along with his 6’7” frame so he can be a major contributor in the 2-3 zone defense. Matthews will have two more years of eligibility.
Brown has made multiple stops over his college career and decided he will make his final one in his home state of Washington. He began at local Shoreline Community College, moved onto Seattle University, then eventually ended up at the University of Arizona. He only started nine games while at Arizona averaging 7.3 points and 3.5 assists per game. It was at SeattleU where Brown made a name for himself averaging just over 20 points per game in his Junior year, giving him looks from schools like Arizona. This will be his final year of eligibility.
Both Matthews and Brown are solid additions and will most likely be in the starting lineup for game #1 if no other major players are added from the transfer portal. Jamel Bey and Nate Roberts will also be returning to the starting lineup after being there for the majority of last season as well.
The final starting spot is still up in the air but I believe the incoming freshman out of Olympia High School, Jackson Grant, will earn the spot. Grant has been committed to the Huskies since November of 2019 and stayed loyal throughout the time in between.
At 6’10, Grant is the exact type of big man Hopkins wants in his zone defense to provide massive length down below where he can improve their rebounding — which was horrendous last season. He will also be a worthy offensive weapon as he averaged 17 points for Olympia during his Junior season. To top off his accolades, he earned a spot on the prestigious McDonald’s All-American team, which is an honor given to the top 24 high school recruits in the country.
This starting five has the potential to be a very good one if Brown can be the scorer he was at SeattleU, Matthews finally develops into an offensive weapon and Grant gets past his freshman struggles to contribute early in the season.
However, as it is right now, the team is extremely thin off the bench with 3-4 players needing to be added. There are still names out there that could be possible additions but Hopkins will need to get on it fast before they commit elsewhere. The core is there, now the surrounding pieces need to be put in place in order for the Huskies to be in a much better position than they were at the end of last season.