New-look Husky men’s basketball team set to prove doubters wrong in 2022
SAN FRANCISCO — For Washington Huskies duo Jamal Bey and Keion Brooks Jr., the Pac-12 men’s basketball media day was a 10-hour extravaganza of old reunions and new introductions.
“I was quite comfortable being here last year, but now I know what I like, I know how much I like to talk in interviews and I’m not so indecisive about certain things. said Bey, 22, a fifth-year senior, who was making his second trip to media day and has more games (119) than anyone else in the conference. “It makes it much easier to do things like that and play basketball.”
So what should UW fans know about a Husky team that lost seven players from a team that finished 17-15 and signed seven newcomers?
“I want them to know that we’re a team that’s going to give it our all,” Bey said. “It’s probably the hardest working team since my first year. The competitive edge that everyone has. Everyone wants to win. That’s what people have to be ready for.
“As for me, people have all the film in the world on me. I just want to get really good at the stuff I know I’m good at. I’m getting better at things I need to work on and playing at my own pace.
Meanwhile, Brooks, a former five-star recruit from Fort Wayne, Indiana, is a bit of an unknown commodity despite his last three years in Kentucky.
“My story is not over,” said Brooks, a 6-foot-7 senior forward who is on the verge of becoming UW’s next star. “I’m pretty sure some people probably forgot about me or forgot about me after what I went through in Kentucky. But my story is still being written.
“As far as our team is concerned, it’s the same thing. People maybe underestimate us and think we could do this or that, but I believe in the group we have. We play extremely hard and we play really well. That’s what I’m looking forward to and trying to get this story out there.
The Huskies spent much of Wednesday afternoon offering projections for upcoming seasons and downplaying their No. 9 spot in the Pac-12 preseason men’s basketball poll.
“The only thing that matters is the standings at the end of the season,” Brooks said. “I believe in the coach and the staff we have. I feel like we’re going to win games. Being picked ninth doesn’t mean anything because they haven’t seen us play yet.
The grim preseason prediction is a byproduct of a roster rotation in which the Huskies lost four starters and four of their top six scorers, including Terrell Brown Jr., who led the Pac-12 with 21 .7 points per game.
“It’s hard to replace what Terrell did,” said Brooks, who averaged 10.8 points and 4.4 rebounds last season. “But I think it will be done by the committee. Every team should have a top scorer, but that doesn’t mean one person has to shoulder the entire load on their own. We have good players who can shoot and guys who can really shoot the ball. Guys who are good at painting. So collectively I think we can make it happen.
Right now, everything about Huskies is speculation because there are so many unknown variables and questions.
Are Cole Bajema and Bey giving UW enough perimeter shooters?
Can Washington State transfer Noah Williams and returning goaltender PJ Fuller to lead the offense?
Will the UW’s 2-3 zone defense find the bite it’s been missing for two years?
Which unsung newcomer (Franck Kepnang, Braxton Meah, Keyon Menifield, Koren Johnson and Tyler Lindhardt) will have the most impact?
And will Langston Wilson or Jackson Grant make significant progress in year two?
“I know it, I know we have character kids,” coach Mike Hopkins said. “I know we have experience. I know we are selfless guys and good student-athletes. Learning the basketball system is a bit of an early struggle. Yes. So how do you speed up the process? Well, there is no speeding up the process. Just do it every day. It’s like that.
“But when you have the right people with character, then every time you struggle you can recover. … We had some growing pains in the beginning, but it’s good to have that now because that’s how you get better and better.
Last year, Hopkins was in a similar situation with a team that lost eight players, including seven through transfers, and signed eight newcomers, including six transfers.
The Huskies started slow at 5-5, including embarrassing home losses to Northern Illinois, Winthrop and Wyoming that nearly derailed the season.
Washington rallied and went 11-9 in the Pac-12, which was tied for fifth in the standings before a Pac-12 tournament quarterfinal loss.
Few teams have taken advantage of the transfer portal more than UW last season, but Hopkins admits he’s learning to lessen the negative impact of frequent turnover.
“I’ll tell you this, we put our system in place a little earlier,” he said. “Yeah, nobody really practices defense in the offseason. It’s true. And we have little contact with the children, but we have introduced (defensive) patterns and concepts hoping that they will come back with a better understanding of what we are trying to do.
“Listen, learning is a hard thing. Some people learn faster than others. But we’re snacking every day. We’ve got the size. We’ve got the depth and we’ve got the athleticism. Now we have to build this chemistry.
Washington hosts Division II Alaska Fairbanks on Tuesday in an exhibition game. The Huskies’ season opener Nov. 7 against Weber State is the first game in a four-game homestand before heading to Anaheim, Calif., for a pair of non-conference contests in the Wooden Legacy.
Entering his sixth season at UW, Hopkins is no longer dogged by constant questions about his job security, but another slow start and a losing season will likely put him back in the hot seat. After the 2022-23 season, he’s two years old and will owe $6.3 million on a six-year deal that expires in 2025.
The Huskies made just one NCAA Tournament appearance during his tenure, which produced an 85-75 record, including 45-39 in the Pac-12.
“What we teach our guys is how you react,” Hopkins said. “Last year was not our norm because 17-15 is not where we see ourselves.
“But I believe there were a lot of positive things that came out of last year. We won 11 games in the league. We were on an upward trajectory. We are tied for fifth (in the league) We feel we can build on last year with what we needed to take the next step and we are ready to take that next step.
When told a trip to the NCAA Tournament would calm critics who want a coaching change, Hopkins smiled.
“I don’t think about things like that,” he said. “Our goal every year is to win the Pac-12. I want to go to the NCAA tournament. I want to win the national championship. When you focus on things you can’t control, that’s where you get in trouble. .
“You just do what you do every day. It’s about how to get better? How do we stay connected? This is what we teach our children. To be a good leader for these guys, we have to live this life.