Question and Answer with Mike Hopkins

Gone are Hakim Warrick, Josh Pace and Craig Forth. Replaced in part by a Junior class that has had the "potential" label affixed to it since arriving on campus. But the Syracuse Orange needs to change that "potential" into "production" in the 2005-06 season. Orangenation sat down with Assistant Head Coach Mike Hopkins to get his take on this year's team…

How does the team approach this year, given the way last season ended with the loss to Vermont?


"For such a devastating loss, it really hasn't been talked about that much, especially with this team. I think these guys are just focused. Gerry wants to have a great year. He knows with great team success comes individual accolades." 


"These guys were embarrassed.  You're gonna have a lot of new energy.  I think our energy level for our games, early season games you'll see more "going right at ‘em, right away. These guys are just going to be excited to play.  They're not going to be worried about getting 20 points a game.  They're worried about and happy about playing right now.  Instead of getting six or nine minutes and looking over to the bench if they made a mistake, now they've got to be able to go for 25-35 minutes.  They're going to be happy as clams. I think you're going to see, as the year progresses, a major improvement as far as production for guys like Terrence. Terrence is a hyper active type of kid, very upbeat high energy.  These guys need to hit a comfort level, and that's gonna take time – maybe 10-15 games where they can get comfortable where they were in high school.  When they get to that point, we'll be really good. I think we'll be more of a dangerous team at the end of the year, maybe make a stumble early or in the middle of the season, maybe a game we shouldn't lose."



You're going to have some new faces play key roles this year. How is that going to play out?


"It's exciting, if you look at all our great teams - we've been the underdog at the beginning of the year.  You look at 1987, 1996 and 2003. The make up of those teams had lots of first year starters who were hungry plus one stud. When you have guys out there just playing, playing to win –they're not playing like "oh my god I've got to get 20 points, I've got to get this" Everybody knows who to get the ball to at the end of the game."



What should we expect to be different this year?


"We're going to be more physical defensively.  We're going to be more physical and a better rebounding team."



Does that mean more man-to-man defense?


"Let's be honest, Coach Boeheim and Coach (John) Chaney are known for their zone defenses.  Coach wants to play man-to-man a lot more.  I think last year with Gerry and Hakim being marginal defensive players, and had to play 35-40 minutes a game to get them their 20 points per game in order for us to be successful – they could get in foul trouble and they could get tired quicker (in a man-to-man). Coach wants to get to a point total. He wants to get to that 77-85 points per game.  And the zone is a tough defense, and it's kind of like our culture now.  Now you have guys who could probably hold hands and cover sideline to sideline.  You've got size and Daryl Watkins who is a live wire body. So defensively and rebounding are going to be positives for us the whole season long. I think it'll keep us in games early in the season, and I think as the season progresses you'll see more offense out of guys like Terrence.  I think Eric Devendorf is going to help us a whole lot."



What might we see different from an offensive standpoint?


"If you go down our roster, you need to look at the strength of each player.  We're going to get players the ball in areas where you can score.  Coach has always been a great offensive coach. We've talked a lot more about Terrence setting pick and rolls and he and Mookie moving around because their strength is going to be their offensive rebounding and being quicker to the ball than the other guy. I think we can get Terrence the ball inside where he can post up and use his left hand.  I think Daryl is a decent 15 foot foul line shooter, if teams play off him, I think he can make that."



What is the biggest question mark this year?


"Last year our goal was to get the ball to Hakim in the post and get Gerry the ball coming off screens.  The problem with Gerry is that Gerry doesn't create a lot of fouls. The one thing about Hakim is that he would foul out the whole front line by the end of the game and put pressure on the defense. Who's going to be able to do that (this year)?"



So post offense is a concern?


"Yeah, I think that is where Eric Devendorf is going to come in.  Eric has the ability to create and either get it up on the rim or make the shot,   He can also shoot, it's not the prettiest of shots, but he makes it. In order for Terrence and Mookie to be successful, you need guys who can get in the lane and get the ball up on the basket to pull the defense to let the big guys go up and get offensive rebounds. So that's how we're going to be successful."



What about a potential back court of McNamara and Devendorf?


"Gerry will help Eric more than Eric will help Gerry, because when Eric penetrates, the guy (Gerry's defender) is never leaving Gerry (to help out on Eric).  Eric has that ability, that very few people have (to finish in traffic), he could be one of those guys, whether he starts or comes off the bench, to average about 15 points a game and be an offensive boost to make things happen."



Who do you think will surprise this year?


"I think it will be Eric scoring-wise. I think Terrence is a guy who could be a double-double guy every night—but it's a new adjustment (for him).  It's like when Hakim first became the go-to-guy, he had the ability, but I don't know if you remember, he struggled early because it was a new thing.  But as the season progressed, he became more confident."



Is this team going to be a better perimeter team?


"I think so.  I think Demetris is big too. I really thought last year he was the key. If you have guys like Gerry and Eric on the court making plays and a guy who can really shoot the ball (you have something).  Demetris got in trouble last year after he got injured and he lost his confidence and then he started trying to do things he can't do because he felt he was losing it because of his missed practices and his stiff back.  And then he just lost confidence all the way to the end of the season. But if you look at the games at the end of the season, like Vermont, he was the only guy who showed up. He just looked like a difference-maker. Even go back to his freshman season in the NCAA tournament he was averaging 10 points a game and was a legit 3rd or 4th option."



Will Matt Gorman make a contribution this year?


"Matt can score.  He's our best low post scorer. He can make shots. But I just don't know – he hasn't played for three years, I just don't know what to expect.  If it was the Matty Gorman his sophomore year, I'd say he's going to come in and play a lot and do great things.  The question with Matt now is, "is he a college basketball player, or is he a college student?"  You never know what the mentality is. The difference between Gerry McNamara is that he can miss ten shots and think he's making the next ten. Eric Devendorf is cocky, he doesn't know any better, he's not afraid.  Demetris, on his best day when he's confident, he's a great player, but when he loses his confidence, he's down and that's why you have these inconsistencies.  You want to know as a coach who's going to be consistent day in and day out."



So you have more options this year?


"The good thing is we have different looks for different teams. We have a small lineup, we can press. I mean, we haven't even talked about Josh Wright, who is as talented as anybody.  But it goes back to the same thing - is he going to be able to be consistent?  Is he going to be able to not turn the ball over?  I have a rule, if he turns the ball over in practice, it's a 30 (sprint) after practice…Josh can't be a turnover waiting to happen."


"People don't realize how much pressure there is for these kids. They have all the accolades coming from high school into here, and now they're coming off the bench.  It's a whole new environment. How are they going to react to it?  Josh Pace can do it, but very few people can be good bench players after you've been pulled and kicked and spit on.


"Take Demetris.  He would come in (last year) and felt he had to make a shot.  The toughest thing to do is to come off the bench and make a shot. You've been sitting over there for 12 minutes, you've been thinking about it the whole game, you're tight, you warmed up early and now you're lower back is stiff, you're trying to keep mentally in the game and you get in and try to make a shot.  And then, and it always happens—the guy always makes a jump shot in your (defensive) area.  We (the coaches) always joke about it, it always just happens, it's like the basketball gods are against you. Then coach goes ballistic."


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