Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Syracuse’s Hopkins Biding Time As Boeheim’s Successor
NEW YORK – When the day comes that Jim Boeheim retires as the head coach at Syracuse University, whether it arrives in two years, four or six, Mike Hopkins will be ready to take his place.
“His time frame should be whenever he wants,” Hopkins said of Boeheim on the day Syracuse is to meet UConn in one Big East tournament semifinal at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s kind of stupid having a time frame with a coach who was just at 65 National Coach of the Year last year.”
Boeheim, a Naismith Hall of Famer with 855 career wins, told Ian O’Connor of ESPNNewYork.com that he is getting “closer and closer” to retiring.
“I can see it, I can see the end,” said Boeheim, 66.
“I’m getting close, I really feel that way. I’m not making any calls at this stage of the season, but this league has gotten awfully tough. It’s a real grind out there.”
In 2007, Boeheim designated Hopkins, now 41, as his eventual successor.
“I have a great job,” Hopkins said. “I work for one of the greatest coaches to ever coach the game. Jay-Z in his documentary talked about being hot and being relevant. Being hot is having a hit single and being relevant is someone who can do it over time. Coach has been able to adjust so many times and with the changing of the kids.”
Hopkins says he’s learning every day on the job and is privileged to be where he is.
Last summer Boeheim invited him to be an assistant as Team USA, led by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, trained against a Select team of college athletes that included UConn junior Kemba Walker, who hit the game-winner in Thursday’s quarterfinal win over No. 1 Pitt and will be priority No. 1 for the Orange on Friday night.
“I would’ve never gotten that opportunity if I hadn’t worked at Syracuse University and hadn’t worked for Jim Boeheim,” Hopkins said. “I always feel like I go to the Harvard School of Basketball.”
Still, Hopkins, like most assistants, wants to eventually become a head coach.
“You learn, you get an education and then at some point you want want that opportunity,” he said. “And that’s just human nature. That’s how we’re built.”
Boeheim himself, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, Gonzaga’s Mark Few, Butler’s Brad Stevens and Xavier’s Chris Mack all took over at places where they were assistants. And all have been successful.
Hopkins is one of several current Big East assistants whose names are currently in the rumor mill for head coaching vacancies.
Hopkins and Pitt assistant Pat Skerry have been linked to the Providence opening, made official when Keno Davis was fired Friday.
“He has great insight into conference and is a relentless recruiter,” Dixon said of Skerry, a former Providence assistant.
Georgetown assistant Mike Brennan and Rutgers assistant Van Macon have been mentioned at Monmouth. St. John’s assistant Mike Dunlap has been linked to Wyoming. And Louisville assistant Steve Masiello, a former Manhattan assistant, has been connected with the Manhattan opening.
“Steve Masiello works for Rick Pitino, who everybody knows is one of the best coaches ever to do it,” Hopkins said. “Masiello played for Rick Pitino as well. I played for Jim Boeheim. You get a whole different perspective, not only as a player but as a coach.”
Hopkins pointed to Dixon as an example of a successful Big East head coach who was an assistant in the league.
“A guy like Jamie Dixon helped build Pittsburgh,” Hopkins said. “When Ben [Howland] left, he didn’t leave because it was a bad job. He left for a better job, UCLA, which was probably his dream job. Jamie helped build Pitt and was able to not only do that but to succeed and do better. They’ve been arguably the best team in the BIg East for the last several years.
“Working for a great coach definitely helps and prepares you.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.