Syracuse Hopkins

‘Cuse assistant Hopkins philosophical about missing out on USC job

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Syracuse’s top assistant Mike Hopkins has long been a staple of the offseason rumor mill. When openings come up, Jim Boeheim’s right-hand man hears about them. According to a recent article by Mike Waters of the Syracuse Post-Standard, Hopkins usually gives them short shrift. He’s been in serious discussions with St. Bonaventure and Charlotte in the past, but ended up staying put.

When USC came calling at the end of last season, however, Hopkins sat up and listened. Hopkins grew up in southern California, and his parents still live there. The idea of coaching in front of the people who brought him into the world really appealed to Hopkins.

Family ties weren’t just pulling him westward, according to the Post-Standard article, however. Hopkins’ eldest son Griff was none too happy about the idea of moving.

Last winter, Griff Hopkins got off the school bus and raced inside his house to see his father.

“Dad,” said the sixth-grader, “the bus driver said that you’re going to take the USC job. That you’re leaving us. Is that true?”

Mike Hopkins, the long-time assistant basketball coach at Syracuse University, had been in discussions with officials at the University of Southern California about the school’s open head coaching position since mid-February.

And now, there was Griff Hopkins, fresh off the bus, asking his dad if he was leaving Syracuse.

“All he knows is Syracuse,” Hopkins said. Griff is the oldest of Mike and Trish Hopkins’ three children. “No question, if I would’ve left, my son might’ve stopped talking to me.”

Moving your kids from the only home they’ve ever known is a big deal, but it’s a decision parents in and out of the coaching profession make every day, with the overall good of the family in mind. Making his kid happy wasn’t the only thing weighing on Hopkins’ mind. He’s also the presumptive heir to Jim Boeheim, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. Hopkins says he welcomes the challenge of following his mentor, and sustaining the success Boeheim has made commonplace in Syracuse.

In the end, USC chose Andy Enfield instead of Hopkins. Hopkins was somewhat disappointed, but realizes he’s in a great spot.

Hopkins is, so far the exception. Other top assistants have moved on recently, with Coach K sending Chris Collins off to take the helm at Northwestern, and Bill Self’s top lieutenant Joe Dooley sliding into Enfield’s vacated position at Florida Gulf Coast. Those situations are somewhat different, as Collins was surrounded by contenders for K’s eventual open chair, and Dooley was backing up a relatively young coach who likely isn’t going anywhere for a while yet. Boeheim is 68, and has mused on retirement on occasion recently.

It’s interesting to hear the stories behind the coaching carousel. We might as well get to know something about Mike Hopkins now. With Syracuse in the ACC and Boeheim possibly edging toward retirement away from his beloved friends in the media, Hopkins may just inherit one of the most coveted jobs in college hoops, sooner rather than later.

Johnson, Paige help No. 9 Tar Heels roll past Panthers 85-64

North Carolina's Isaiah Hicks (4) dunks against Pittsburgh during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
AP Photo/Gerry Broome
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) Brice Johnson scored 19 points to lead a dominating offensive performance that helped No. 9 North Carolina beat Pittsburgh 85-64 on Sunday.

Marcus Paige added 15 points for the Tar Heels (21-4, 10-2 Atlantic Coast Conference), who shot 59 percent to stay atop the league ahead of the next renewal of their fierce rivalry with Duke.

UNC had plenty of balance, shared the ball and got out in transition in arguably their best performance in weeks, using a 13-0 second-half burst to blow the game open. UNC finished with 26 assists on 32 baskets, 24 points off turnovers and scored 16 fast-break points after managing a combined five in the past two games.

Michael Young and James Robinson each scored 15 points to lead Pitt (17-7, 6-6). But the Panthers shot 37 percent and committed 19 turnovers, and a strong effort on the glass did little to offset their troubles.

The Tar Heels were playing their first home game in two weeks after a difficult three-game road trip that started with losses at Louisville and Notre Dame. Then came Tuesday’s game at Boston College, where the Tar Heels struggled against a winless league team then had a scare when Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams briefly collapsed in a second-half huddle after an attack of vertigo and had to leave the sideline for the rest of the game.

Williams was back in the office on Wednesday’s off day, returned to practice Thursday and told reporters Friday he was fine and even cracked jokes about a two-decade history with vertigo dating to his Kansas years.

Getting back home certainly helped everyone feel better. After wrestling with shooting struggles for much of the past month, UNC’s offense kicked back into an efficient and balanced gear, while Paige – the player the Tar Heels are practically begging to jolt free from a prolonged shooting slump – looked more like his old self against the Panthers.

That included one second-half play in which he caught a crosscourt pass from Theo Pinson in transition and made sure to step back behind the arc before burying a 3-pointer.

The Panthers had lost three of four since a 5-2 league start coming in, including 65-63 on a late tip-in at No. 12 Miami on Tuesday. And Pitt again had trouble getting their offense going, failing to crack 70 points for the third straight game.

TIP-INS

Pittsburgh: Second-leading scorer Jamel Artis scored five points on 2-for-8 shooting. … Pitt finished with a 41-29 rebounding advantage. … Pitt made 9 of 21 3-point attempts.

UNC: Justin Jackson scored 14 points. … UNC made 8 of 15 shots from 3-point range and 13 of 15 free throws. … Jackson and Pinson had six assists each. … UNC managed just one offensive rebound.

UP NEXT

Pittsburgh hosts Wake Forest on Tuesday.

UNC hosts Duke on Wednesday.

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP’s college basketball site at http://collegebasketball.ap.org

Denzel Valentine dominant as No. 8 Michigan State whips Indiana

Michigan State's Denzel Valentine (45) shoots over Indiana's Kevin Yogi Ferrell during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016, in East Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)
AP Photo/Al Goldis
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Trailing by one point at the half, Indiana appeared to be in good shape at No. 8 Michigan State. However the fact that they were unable to slow down Denzel Valentine, who scored 15 first-half points, was a major concern for Tom Crean’s Hoosiers. Sure enough the national Player of the Year candidate continued on his tour de force in the second half, scoring another 15 points and dishing out seven assists as the Spartans rolled to an 88-69 victory.

For the game Valentine finished with 30 points, five rebounds, 13 assists and just one turnover. Of Michigan State’s 48 second half points, Valentine had a hand in 29 of them with all seven of his assists resulting in Michigan State layups. It was a dominant performance from one of the nation’s best players, a versatile guard whose four games missed due to injury may have led to some overlooking him when it comes to those national Player of the Year conversations.

When Valentine’s on everything else flows smoothly for Tom Izzo’s team, as his ability to both score and create results in quality looks for teammates who would struggle if they had to get that part of the job done themselves.

The biggest beneficiary Sunday afternoon was forward Matt Costello, who finished the game with 22 points and 11 rebounds. Of Costello’s ten made field goals (10-for-12 FG) five were assisted by Valentine, and he accounted for 13 points and seven rebounds in the second half. As a team Michigan State shot 63.3 percent from the field and assisted on 16 of their 19 made field goals in the second half, turning a tight contest into a blowout.

Tum Tum Nairn returned the court for the first time in seven games, but he played just two minutes and his time on the court will be managed carefully by Izzo moving forward. For many teams not having your point guard at full strength would represent a crippling blow, but that hasn’t been the case for Michigan State thanks in large part to Valentine. Michigan State went 4-3 in those seven games without Nairn, but the three losses were by a total of three points.

Valentine’s ability to make his teammates better will be a key factor down the stretch for Michigan State, and that skill was what led to the Spartans blowing out Indiana on Sunday.