Ex-Demo thrives at WSU
Point guard Mac Hopson has started and not started, played and not played, and he simply remains delighted to be part of the Washington State basketball team.
In due time, Hopson will get to play against Oregon and Oregon State, teams he used to read about in the newspaper, and Pac-10 powers such as UCLA and Arizona.
'It's a dream come true,' the former Jefferson High star says. 'It feels so good.'
Hopson has started seven of the nine games he has played in for upstart Washington State, and put up impressive numbers for somebody right out of junior college. Hopson is averaging 7.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.7 assists in 24 minutes per game, while shooting .500 from the floor, .625 from 3-point land and .833 from the foul line.
Coach Tony Bennett opted not to play Hopson against Gonzaga, a game the Cougars won as part of their 9-1 start, but he played against Idaho last weekend and scored 13 points and went 5-for-5 from the floor.
'I knew I could play at the Pac-10 level. It's not a surprise,' he says.
A 2005 Jeff grad, Hopson went to North Idaho College last year, where he led his team to its league title and averaged 14 points per game. Initially, he committed to Idaho, where his father had played, but the Vandals fired coach Leonard Perry.
'It put me back on the market,' he says.
Bennett took over the WSU head coaching job from his father, Dick Bennett, and recruited Hopson after watching him on videotape - about the same time guard Josh Akognon left the program. He received offers from the likes of South Florida, Denver, Rice, Utah State and Illinois State, but he chose the highest level of competition.
Obviously, the 6-2 Hopson drew the eyes of Division I recruiters in his only year of JC ball. As a Jefferson senior, Hopson says nobody offered him a college scholarship.
'My coach really believed in me,' he says, of North Idaho College's Jared Phay. 'He gave me the ball, and I led my team to victory. The best stretch of basketball in my life - I improved so much.'
Interestingly, two other Jeff players have moved to Idaho to play JC ball. Brian Morris transferred from Southern Methodist to North Idaho on Hopson's encouragement. Kevin Ford transferred from New Mexico State to College of Southern Idaho, after initially considering North Idaho.
Both of them seek to sign and play Division I again - Ford back at New Mexico State possibly, Hopson says.
Bennett wants Hopson to be a vocal leader and a good defender. Hopson has made good decisions when to shoot the ball. Under Dick Bennett, the Cougars played at a snail's pace and emphasized defense. Under Tony Bennett, the Cougars have stepped up the pace - 'more freedom,' Hopson hears the players say - and still emphasize defense.
'You won't play if you're constantly turning the ball over or taking bad shots,' Hopson says.
Hopson's parents live in Vancouver, Wash. - he lived with a grandmother in North Portland during his Jeff days. He spent all summer in Pullman, as the Cougars played together and built relationships for this season. Improvement was accentuated by the stunning home win against Gonzaga.
'We have great chemistry,' he says.