ANAHEIM, California – This week has been something of a homecoming for Mike Hopkins.
The Washington men’s basketball coach grew up in nearby Laguna Hills, California and attended Mater Dei High, where he played on the team that won the 1987 California State Championship.
35 years later, Hopkins returns to Orange County with the Huskies (4-1) who will take on Saint Mary’s (6-0) in Thursday’s Wooden Legacy Championship game at 9:30 p.m. on ESPN2.
“I went to John Wooden’s basketball camp when I was 10 and I still have that image with me and him,” Hopkins said. “A true legend. My dad only quoted Coach Wooden for years, so we’re honored to be a part of it, not just a tournament in his name, but a tournament that carries so much weight on ESPN nationwide.”
An emotional Hopkins was a little stifled when discussing UW’s trip to Southern California, especially when the conversation turned to his family.
Hopkins, 53, was visiting his 85-year-old father, Griff, who has been struggling with early stages of dementia for years, on Tuesday morning. And his 80-year-old mother Sue and brother John were in the stands at the Anaheim Convention Center Wednesday night as Washington secured a 62-57 comeback win over Fresno State.
After the game, Hopkins found his mother and pulled her into a huge hug.
“The last game she saw me coaching was when we played UCLA in our freshman year at UCLA (2017),” Hopkins said. “My father couldn’t come because he can’t travel, but I was glad to see her. Gave her a big hug and kiss after the game. I know the lateness of the day was a little rough on her. It was just special for my mother to see us win. It put things in perspective.”
In addition to Hopkins, husky assistant Quincy Pondexter and junior center Braxton Meah, a couple from Fresno, California, spent time with family and friends this week.
“Quincy will be celebrating Thanksgiving early (Thursday) with his family,” Hopkins said. “His whole family came here. It is great. They’ve come to Seattle before, but to be able to have your family come and watch you is pretty cool.”
And Meah, who transferred from Fresno State, was instrumental in UW’s win over his former team.
“I loved it,” said Meah, who had a team-high in 16 minutes with seven rebounds and four points. “I have to play against the people I’ve played with in recent years. It was an amazing experience. I had to do it with my new family and that made it even better.”
The 7-foot-1 Meah helped build a strong defensive line that kept Fresno State at 37.7% shooting and forced 21 turnovers.
“I told him I couldn’t imagine being in your place,” Hopkins said. “But he handled it like a champ. I thought he was the big difference early in the second half. I thought he did the interior. I wish we had found that out better earlier.”
Next up is Saint Mary’s star center Mitchell Saxen, who scored 19 points in the Gaels’ 75-65 win over Vanderbilt.
In their last meeting, Washington lost to Saint Mary’s 85-81 in the second round of the NIT in 2018.
“We know them a little bit, so there’s a certain familiarity there,” Hopkins said. “But it’s all about us and how we get better game by game. We did some good defensively (on Wednesday), now it’s about continuing that and making some progress on offense.”
Washington has not won a nonconference tournament since winning the Wooden Legacy title in 2014. And the Huskies haven’t played Thanksgiving since 2015.
“To play a tournament championship is very special,” Hopkins said. “It’s a great opportunity and we need to put ourselves in the best position to take advantage of it.”