Dennis Hopson is a Buckeye Legend. He's the all-time leading scorer in Ohio State basketball history with 2,096 career points. He also holds the single season Ohio State scoring record with 958 points in 1987. Both are records that have now stood for a quarter of a century. Hopson was a two-year Captain for the Buckeyes, roamed the floor at the old St. John Arena for four years, earned All-American status and was voted Big Ten Player of the Year as a senior. He is also the proud owner of a degree from The Ohio State University. Dennis Hopson's famed #32 does not currently hang from the rafters in the Jerome Schottenstein Center.
We believe it should.
This is the first of a five-part series documenting the Ohio State career of Mr. Dennis Hopson - and why we should never again see a #32 in Scarlet and Gray.
Gary Williams was about to begin his first season at the helm of the Ohio State's men's basketball program after Eldon Miller's contract wasn't extended following the 1986 season. Seven-footer Brad Sellers was off to the NBA, having just become the ninth overall pick by the Chicago Bulls in the April draft after two seasons in Columbus. Ohio State's point guard, the floor general of all successful college basketball teams, was a young sophomore named Jay Burson. The Buckeyes were picked to finish 8th of ten teams in a Big Ten conference that was stacked full of talent. But Ohio State had one thing nobody else had - Dennis Hopson.
Coming off a 1985-86 season that saw Hopson average 20.9 points and 8.5 rebounds, he was the centerpiece of the 1987 Buckeyes. With Sellers leaving early for the NBA, Hopson was left to carry a team that had very little experience as a group. The starting lineup consisted of the 6-5 Hopson, 6-10 John Anderson, the 6-0 Burson, 6-5 Jerry Francis and 6-1 Curtis Wilson. Anderson started three games the previous year, Burson five and Wilson seven. The gritty Francis was a worthy counter punch alongside Hopson but the Buckeyes would need a historic season from their star in order to see any success.
Hopson didn't disappoint.
All he did was average 29.1 points-per-game - good for second in the nation and tops in Big Ten - while also leading Ohio State in minutes, rebounds, blocked shots, steals, and five other statistical categories. He was a one man wrecking crew and the coaches around the Big Ten took notice by voting him Big Ten Player of the Year for his senior season. They didn't have much choice after watching him dismantle their defenses game after game.
On January 8th Hopson dropped 39 on the hated Wolverines in Ann Arbor. Just seven days later he recorded 31 points and added 14 boards, 8 assists and 4 steals against Northwestern, prompting Wildcats head coach Bill Foster to call Dennis, "A one-man show." On January 24th Hop scored 36 in Iowa City en route to knocking off the previously number-one ranked and unbeaten Iowa Hawkeyes. On February 5th Dennis scored 35 in a two-point loss to #4 Purdue, after which the Boilermakers' head coach Gene Keady said, "I guess we held him pretty good. That's under his average, right?" Not quite, Coach.
At the time the Big Ten was undoubtedly the best basketball conference in the country (with Big Ten champion Indiana capping off 1987 by going on to win the National Championship), and Hopson was the best player in the best league. "I would put Dennis Hopson at the top, with a big gap between Dennis and the next player," Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote said. "You would give points to Steve Alford (IU), Gary Grant (UM), Troy Lewis (Purdue) and Kenny Norman (IL), but Hopson does it all--shooting, rebounding, playing inside and outside and playing defense."
Iowa Coach Tom Davis agreed. "He's terrific. He is special. When you look at Hopson, you're looking at the best."
Purdue's Gene Keady was once asked how you go about stopping Hopson, to which he responded with a laugh, "Cautiously."
The looks of amazement weren't reserved for only opposing coaches. Ohio State's first year head coach Gary Williams thought as highly of Hopson as anyone:
"I didn't know how good he was when I came here. I thought he could score, but I didn't know he could pass and rebound. He does everything a coach could ask. The difference between him and other big scorers is that he's playing against the best teams in the country," Williams said. "He's amazing."
But Dennis didn't just beat up on his conference counterparts during his senior campaign.
In December 1986 he recorded the first triple-double in Ohio State history against the Ohio University Bobcats (the next would come more than 23 years later when Evan Turner matched the feat against Alcorn State). During a three-game stretch in the Rainbow Classic (Dec 28-30, 1986) Hopson totalled 100 points, including 36 against a Florida Gators team that helplessly watched him score 13 of Ohio State's final 20 points in leading the Buckeyes to a two-point win and avenging a loss to the Gators earlier in the season.
Unfortunately for Hopson, the Buckeyes and the Buckeye faithful the 80's weren't polite to Ohio State. During his amazing 1986-87 senior season the Bucks were only televised to the entire nation once. In order to have your number retired at The Ohio State University, according to the requirements set by the school's powers-that-be, a player must be named National Player of the Year. With no national spotlight to shine in, Dennis ended his season second in voting for that top honor, behind only the Navy's David Robinson.
He was voted to The Sporting News All-American Team, named the Big Ten Player of the Year by a wide margin, and propelled himself into a position to be drafted 3rd overall in an April NBA draft that included names such as Armon Gilliam, David Robinson, Horace Grant, Scottie Pippen, Kenny Smith, Reggie Miller, Mark Jackson, and Kevin Johnson.
When asked in 1987 about his decision as a high school sophomore to take up basketball, Hopson said, " I had all the tools. It was just a matter of if I wanted to do it or not. I thought about it. I watched college basketball and said, 'Yeah, I could be out there doing what they're doing.'"
He was absolutely right, and he ended up doing it about as well as anyone who has ever worn the Scarlet and Gray.
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