It was difficult to decide which direction to go with this first post from my shoot Thursday at Hinkle Fieldhouse for the Butler University men's basketball team's second (and final) exhibition game before embarking on the 2010-11 regular season schedule Saturday against Marian University, also an Indianapolis school.
After reading the college basketball preview discussion between sportswriters Terry Hutchens and Jeff Rabjohns in this morning's sports section of The Indianapolis Star, I decided to start with a focus on one of the Bulldogs' freshman recruits, Chrishawn Hopkins, whom Rabjohns termed "a crazy athlete" in the Sunday discussion.
Thursday's Bulldogs game against Hanover College was my first chance to see Hopkins and fellow Butler first-year players Khyle Marshall and Erik Fromm play. I liked what I saw in each of these athletes. I didn't quite get what Rabjohns meant about Hopkins being a "crazy athlete," unless he means simply that Hopkins is a phenomenal athlete, which I think is true. It's clear that Hopkins -- a 6-1 guard -- is athletic. He didn't score any points in the game against the Panthers, but he did have people in the crowd on the edge of their seats when he leaped high to try a one-hand a jam off an in-bounds play in the first half (he missed the shot). I managed to grab two frames of the jam, but as is the case in trying to photograph quick-action sports, you often have hit-and-miss success. In this case, it was largely a miss. I didn't have my lens zoomed out far enough, and while I captured the major section of Hopkins' upper torso with arm extended and even a sliver of the ball as he approached the basket for the jam, I didn't have it in sharp focus. I'll provide the best of the two "jam" images so you can see what I mean.
What I remember most about that play, however, was the mischievous look on Hopkins' face as he stood out of bounds along the side of the court moments before the play was to unravel. It was as if he couldn't contain himself that the play was designed to go to him -- or at least include him as an option to score. An image of that is included.
Hopkins is interesting, too, because of the odyssey that has been his life story the past few years. He attended Manual High School in the Indianapolis Public Schools system his freshman and sophomore years, then moved to Las Vegas for the start of his junior year before returning to Indianapolis and playing only a limited number of games. Before the start of his senior year, he enrolled in Herron High School, a relatively new Indianapolis liberal arts charter school. Herron's athletic director, Vince Stennett, reportedly is Hopkins' legal guardian, and it's where Sherron Wilkerson, a former Indiana University basketball standout and the 1993 Indiana Mr. Basketball from Jeffersonville, had just been hired as head coach. The Manual-Las Vegas-Manual-Herron bounce-around understandably didn't sit well with Manual High School, which contested Hopkins' transfer to Herron, suspecting athletics was a major motivation. (In Indiana -- as is the case in most states -- a student cannot transfer high schools for strictly athletic purposes, and the governing bodies of the respective state high school athletic associations usually rule on the legitimacy of such transfers when they are challenged).
Hopkins' case was a bit different, however. Because Stennett -- a faculty member at Herron -- was Hopkins' guardian, an argument could be made that Hopkins should be able to attend the school where his parent/guardian works. But the Indiana High School Athletic Association agreed with Manual; it decided Hopkins' transfer was for athletic reasons and ruled Hopkins ineligible to play basketball for Herron. Hopkins then returned to Manual to finish his high school career.
The saga was unfortunate for Hopkins, who probably would have benefited from the prospect of better academics at Herron vs. those at Manual ... which is not to slam Manual, which along with all IPS schools is waging a difficult, ongoing battle to turn around a history of sustained poor ISTEP scores (ISTEP is Indiana's annual testing system that helps gauge academic achievement standards by students and reflects on a school system's ability to help students achieve those standards). It's merely stating fact. By all accounts -- including that of Hopkins' coach at Manual, Jim Merlie -- Hopkins is an athletic, unselfish player, character traits that undoubtedly caught the attention of Butler head basketball coach Brad Stevens. "I hope you guys know you got a steal," Merlie said of Hopkins' decision to attend Butler, as reported by David Woods, The Star's Butler basketball beat writer, in March of this year.
The "steal" Merlie alludes to probably points to how the talented Hopkins might have gotten lost among many big college recruiters because of his shuttle between schools. Hopkins did not end up being a national Top 100 recruit, but then, as The Star's Woods noted earlier this year, neither was Gordon Hayward of Brownsburg. Hayward, you may remember, came to Butler three years ago as a gangly forward with decent ball-handling skills (he was 5-11 and a guard as a high school freshman before enjoying a significant growth spurt over a two-year period; he was 6-7 by the time he was a senior at Brownsburg). Once he joined Butler's Bulldogs, Hayward played extraordinary, over-the-top basketball for two years. He was a major component in Butler's successful run to the NCAA championship game against Duke last March. Hayward left Butler after his sophomore season to enter the NBA draft and was the ninth pick of the draft's first round. He now plays for the NBA's Utah Jazz.
In a stroke of irony (or would this be mere coincidence?), Hopkins wears Hayward's jersey number -- 20 -- for Butler. And if you look closely at the images in this post, it almost looks as if it is Hayward's exact jersey; Hopkins is swimming in the uniform! Hayward is now 6-8; Hopkins 6-1.
In a supportive, stable, "the Butler Way" environment, Hopkins is in a good place, one where his basketball ambitions will have a healthy opportunity to blossom and come to fruition. Here's hoping he takes advantage of this opportunity.
To view a gallery of images from Thursday's game, visit this link: Butler vs. Hanover photo gallery.
Above and next two images below: In Chrishawn Hopkins' on-court time in the first half of Butler's game against Hanover, Hopkins guarded the Panthers' Shawn Melton, who returned the favor when the Bulldogs went on offense.
Note the jersey size in the images above and below ...