Mikael Hopkins entered Georgetown with incredible promise and leaves as one of the most polarizing players of his class. Athletically gifted, defensively aggressive, and offensively inept, Hopkins could be frustrating to watch but ultimately carved out a role in the rotation that he fulfilled well. Unfortunately for Georgetown fans, that role turned out to be less than what we needed, and certainly less than what we wanted.
Hopkins' freshman year also marked the emergence of Henry Sims as a true center who could play a good 35 minutes per game (we often forget some centers didn't require offense / defense substitutions the entire game...). As a result, we saw very little of Hopkins his freshman year, but we did get enough glimpses to see what kind of player he could be. A 12-point 3-rebound performance in 22 minutes against NJIT showed promise - enough to ignore careless turnovers and goaltending calls. After all, rookie mistakes are easier to write off when the player at hand is actually a rookie.
Perhaps Hopkins' most representative game freshman year was a 4-point, 4-rebound performance in 19 minutes in an overtime loss at Syracuse. His 1-8 shooting was marred by missed bunnies and layups, but his defense was enough to keep him in the game - particularly when Sims entered foul trouble. At the time - in the context of a promising freshman class featuring Porter, Trawick and Whittington -- it was easy to view Hopkins' through a rose-colored lens. He, too, would turn his game around and join his classmates in ushering in new era of dominance for the Hoyas.
Alas, it was not meant to be.
While the year and minutes changed for Hopkins, the game tended not to. With an increased opportunity came more flashes of promise and more frustration for Hoya fans that a clearly talented center could not put together a consistent 40 minutes of basketball. Out of necessity, Hopkins started - and would continue to start for the Hoyas until midway through his senior year - and averaged 6 points and 3 rebounds in just about 20 minutes of playing time. But seemingly breakout games, such as a 15-point, 8-rebound performance in an overtime loss to Syracuse was followed up by a 3-point, 3-rebound showing against FGCU. Hopkins added 4 fouls and 3 turnovers on top of his 0 field goals that night.
Junior year did not bring about the elusive Sims-jump. Each passing game confirmed the realization that Hopkins was a severely limited player from an offensive and basketball IQ standpoint. His minutes did not increase, his fouls did not decrease, and his impact on the game remained frustratingly inconsistent.
The final grasp for salvation came his senior year, when Hopkins moved to his "natural" position of the power forward. It was the last excuse I could come up with, and a valid one at that: Hopkins was often bullied down low for being an undersized, out-of-position center his previous two years. But while senior year afforded him the opportunity, it did not bring about any material changes. His turnovers continued, the bunnies never fell, and the spacing of offense reminded me of my church league teams.
But this past year, Coach Thompson had the pieces to make real-time adjustments, and Copeland got the nod at the 4 spot about halfway through the year. It was a move that paid off big-time, and Hopkins moved to his new "natural" role: backup center.
I usually end these things by proclaiming how much each senior will be missed, but I'm not sure how true that would be for Hopkins. It may sound harsh, but I'm looking forward to turning the page on an era of big men at Georgetown - I often thought that the display of offense from Ayegba, Lubick, and Hopkins should have been banned for cruel and unusual punishment, and that's before mentioning the set of issues Joshua Smith brought to the table (let's save that for another time). Hopefully, Jessie Govan and Bradley Hayes can recall the days of Monroe or Hibbert instead of performances in recent years.
But here's where I will end: ESPN's assessment of Hopkins coming out of high school included a red flag for inconsistent effort. That never materialized at Georgetown. For all of his flaws on the court, this kid gave it his all every night - something not every big man at Georgetown can say (sorry, again, another time).
Not everyone can lead, and Hopkins was certainly not in that position come senior year. He never had Trawick's intensity or Starks' command of the locker room, nor did he have DSR's lead-by-example style. But when you can't lead, you can follow, and often times, that's just as important. Hopkins' frustrations with his own game never manifested in fits about playing time or lackadaisical efforts. He played for his teammates, held personal accountability, and knew when to follow the leaders on the team. And for that, I can say with honesty, he will be missed.