As he mingled with assorted Syracuse players’ parents, relatives, friends, high school coaches and the like in the stands of Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center after Wednesday night’s win over Villanova, making it 18-0 starts in back-to-back seasons for this year’s top-ranked team, 15-year assistant coach Mike Hopkins was in his element.
Laughing, high-fiving, and hugging folks with his usual exuberance, the man who will one day be the king of SU basketball, and who knows, that one day may be sooner than later especially if the Orange advance to the Final Four and win a championship this season, was simultaneously soaking in the success of his recruiting prowess, his X’s and O’s, and his genuine, West Coast-rooted personality with an extended hoops family surrounding him all enjoying the latest SU win.
Before he boarded the bus for the charter flight home, Hop was kind enough to sit with us and answer some questions on our mind as he quietly goes about his business of helping the Orange continue to win.
OW: Has it been energetic for you in the wake of the coaching change in November to move in-season from coaching the guards to the big men?
MH: Anything for the team and it’s a lot of fun. I love coaching, I love helping kids. To see the big guys try to get better, to give them the knowledge, it’s all for the betterment of the team. For the big men, it’s about footwork, positioning (laughing), and those types of things. But more importantly, motivation, try to get them to really work hard and buy into what we’re doing as a whole.
OW: How fun has this season been?
MH: It’s been a great, great season. I think the biggest thing is you just want to be consistent every night. The most important thing is that you come out with a “W”, and with that the process is about getting better every day and that’s what I focus on.
OW: Will you stay involved in international basketball this year working with Coach Boeheim before the Olympic Games in London in August?
MH: No, I don’t think so. I was a replacement on the World Championship (FIBA) event (last summer) and it was a great experience. Obviously, I learned a lot being around Coach K, Coach McMillan (Portland Trail Blazers Nate McMillan) all those guys, it was amazing. Any opportunity I have to learn as much as I possibly can, that’s always what I’m striving to do.
OW: After all these years as an assistant, and we all know about the talk of your eventual ascension to the top job, how good do you feel sitting here 15 years into your career?
MH: It’s been an amazing journey for me. It’s like you tell your team, the ups and downs, the losses and wins, you just try to work on the process and you just try to become the best I can become. If the opportunity exists or something happens, I could never see myself leaving, but it’s some of those things you just never know.
OW: But looking to the future, they’re talking about you (taking over the job), right?
MH: Syracuse has been an amazing experience for me working with a guy like Coach Boeheim who gets better with age. It’s amazing (laughing), it’s like a fine wine. We have a lot of great coaches on our staff, from our academic group to strength and conditioning. I’m just very, very lucky to be in a great place with a lot of great people.Brad Bierman