As his senior basketball season at Kokomo High School neared its conclusion, Patrick Hopkins was a sought after talent by a number of suitors.
Upwards of seven schools wanted Hopkins, including a few at the NCAA Division I and II levels.
Although it had shown interest, Indiana Wesleyan University, an NAIA Division II school in nearby Marion, wasn’t on his radar.
Despite larger schools’ interest in Hopkins, IWU assistant coach Jeff Clark threw caution to the wind and started pursuing the 6-foot-7 Wildkat big man, anyway.
“I tell this story all the time,” Hopkins said. “The first time coach Clark ever called me, I missed the call. My dad told me I needed to call Jeff back, and I said ‘Dad, I don’t want to go there.’
“And now I’m trying to stay as long as I can.”
Hopkins made the leap of faith and opted to continue his education and hoops career at IWU despite those scholarship offers from larger – and seemingly more substantial – programs.
He’ll leave IWU as one of the best to ever put on a Wildcats jersey. He’ll also leave there as a profoundly different person on the inside.
“Obviously, as a high schooler it wasn’t my first option,” Hopkins said. “But, it was the best decision of my life. It’s changed my life. It’s changed me into the man I am today, and it made me the basketball player I am.”
Hopkins enjoyed a level success of at IWU that few before him had paralleled. But, it didn’t come overnight.
The Wildcats went 30-6 his freshman year, won the Mid-Central College Conference title and made a run to the elite eight in the NAIA D-II national tournament. But, Hopkins appeared in just 16 games and scored 84 total points as he adjusted to the college game and college life, in general.
By the time his career was over, the frosh struggles would be a distant memory.
“He matured a lot,” IWU coach Greg Tonagel said. “And, that’s a transition for most kids as they come in as a 17-, 18-year-olds. Pat came in and learned a lot about work ethic, and the consistency of showing up every day. As he started to do that, his game took off. He became one of the better players that we had.”
Hopkins’ sophomore year put him on the map nationally in the NAIA. He averaged 17.2 points and 9 rebounds per game, both of which led the Wildcats. He blocked a team-best 34 shots, ranked third on the team with 66 assists and fourth with 26 steals.
The team also had great success, wining another MCC title and again making a deep tournament run to the elite eight.
Hopkins was named a second-team All-American.
“Pat had a great impact on our program, and I think the program had a great impact on Pat,” Tonagel said. “He worked really hard. He had a little bit of a slow start his freshman year, and decided thereafter to commit himself by staying after for the summers. His hard work really paid off.”
After winning a third conference title in as many years in his junior campaign, a season in which he averaged 14.8 points and 8.7 rebounds, Hopkins exploded in his senior year.
The Wildcats won a fourth conference title in as many years, this time in a new conference, the Crossroads League, finishing the year 26-7 and making it to the round of 16 in the national tournament. He scored a career-high 30 points in his final game in an IWU uniform, a 75-62 loss to Dordt College.
As a senior, Hopkins averaged 17.6 points and 10.5 boards. His rebounding average was tops in the nation for the NAIA D-II level, and he was just one of four players at that level to average a double-double.
This time around, Hopkins earned a nod to the All-American first team after being named the Crossroads League’s player of the year.
“I was working out with a [teammate] one day and said ‘There’s no way I’m not leaving here an All-American,’” Hopkins recalled. “That’s how hard I wanted to work. Coach [Tonagel] called me and said ‘Congratulations, you’ve made first-team All-American.’ I called my mom and she started crying. I know it’s just a basketball [award], but it just proved that all my hard work was worth it.”
Hopkins appeared in 118 games during his collegiate career, drawing the start in 96 and averaging 15 points and 8.8 rebounds per outing. His 1,773 career points ranks him ninth all-time in the IWU program. His 1,040 rebounds are third all-time. He also added 189 assists, 103 steals and 86 blocked shots. The Wildcats went 105-33 in his four years, winning four conference titles along the way. He joined junior teammate Jordan Weidner as the first players in program history to make the All-American team on two separate occasions.
“He’s the first conference player of the year we’ve had,” Tonagel said. “He’s the third first-team All-American that the program has had. He came a long ways. He was a good player when he came in. He left as a great player.”
Now that his collegiate hoops career is over, Hopkins will now turn his full attention to finishing his degree. The physical education and health education major is on pace to graduate in December, where he will look to enter a professional career as a teacher. Wherever that takes him, he will take a little piece of IWU with him throughout the rest of his life.
“They create good men here, not just good basketball players,” Hopkins said. “There’re so many things I’ve learned here from just being on the basketball team. Being part of this basketball program has made me a better man. I’ve learned teamwork. I’ve learned hard work. I’ve learned commitment, punctuality, being on time, being early, how to treat people. … I’m not coming out of there just as a better basketball player. I’m coming out of there a better man, that’s for sure.”