June 22nd will be a bittersweet day for Washington fans. Of course, they will be happy for Markelle Fultz. If all goes as expected, it will be a joy to see the former Husky be picked number one in the NBA Draft. But Fultz will also be a reminder of last year’s painful season, one that inspired the program to go into a full-fledged rebuild.
The Huskies went 9-22 in the 2016-17 season, and 2-16 in the Pac-12 to finish 11th in the conference. It was the first season that Washington had under ten wins in 22 years. After missing the NCAA Tournament for the sixth year in a row, the university decided to fire head coach Lorenzo Romar after 15 seasons, a decision some felt was long overdue.
Romar’s biggest strength in coaching has been his ability to recruit. Despite a lack of tournament appearances (only six in 15 years), 13 future NBA players chose to play under Romar. This was the constant conundrum for years with Romar, he consistently sent out elite talent and then proceeded to do nothing with it. During his tenure, Washington had recruiting classes that ranked in the top five of the Pac-12 nine times, and finished top ten overall three times. Romar just had too many weapons for so many years of mediocrity.
The Huskies were set to have another top recruiting class under Romar for 2018, but his firing sparked a chain of events that ended in three players decommitting, including number one overall recruit Michael Porter Jr. The Huskies managed to keep four-star shooting-guard Jaylen Nowell, but their recruiting class fell from potentially 1st in the Pac-12 to 11th.
The decommitments will surely give new head coach Mike Hopkins fewer pieces to work with in his first year with the program, but he is already a well-respected coach in college basketball. Hopkins has spent the last 22 years as an assistant at Syracuse to Jim Boeheim. Before accepting the job at Washington, Hopkins was named the successor at Syracuse after Boeheim’s retirement. Instead of waiting out the last couple years of Boeheim’s legendary career, Hopkins decided to build his own legacy from the ground up at Washington.
With a brand new coaching staff, and not an extremely talented roster, Washington will have its fair share of bumps in the road over the first year or two of Hopkins’ tenure. But this is the fresh start that many Washington fans have been wanting for a long time. It was clear that Romar could recruit well enough to give the Huskies a good roster on paper, but was only able to execute well enough for a few truly successful seasons.
Romar was a big part of Washington basketball history, but Hopkins will bring a new energy that the program hasn’t felt for years now. While the roster will be lacking in talent, it will be a rather experienced team, which could lead to some surprise upsets over the course of the season. Washington doesn’t have the most illustrious history in college basketball, but the next year or two of rebuilding will lead to a bright future on the horizon for the Huskies.