He’s had bigger team highs — and a more disappointing individual low — than anyone on the Wright State basketball team.
Both got him national attention and the latter has left him in a 15-month limbo from which he’s about to emerge, finally, when the Raiders play Miami University at Millett Hall on Sunday.
First, though, only after some prodding, he agreed to step back to his final days as a returning starter for the Butler Bulldogs, the team with which he went to the NCAA tournament’s championship game.
“Brad Stevens was out of town and he actually flew back in just to have a meeting with me,” Chrishawn Hopkins said in a voice suddenly little more than a whisper. “I knew that was something bad.
“At Butler, you get three strikes and my first two had come in a classroom. Then I just did something really stupid — right away I knew I’d messed up and that it probably would my third strike.”
He was right.
Although neither he nor Butler officials will give the details of that third offense, a person close to the Bulldogs program said the early-September incident last year involved Hopkins and another player fooling around with a BB gun.
In the process, Hopkins managed to shoot down his promising Butler career.
“Coach Stevens told me he had done everything in his power to keep me, but there was nothing he could do — he would have to let me go,” Hopkins said. “I pretty much knew that. It was all my fault — not his — and I realized I’d blown a good opportunity.
“There was a lot of emotion in that room when we met. Everybody shed a tear. I was crying. And Coach Stevens, he definitely was in tears. I got up and gave him a hug and he told me to keep in touch. I could see he was hurt, too. It was just a sad time.”
For Stevens — who had coached his Cinderella Butler squads to two Final Fours and two national title games before moving on to the Boston Celtics this season — it was especially difficult. Hopkins would be the only player he dismissed in his six years as the Bulldogs head coach.
The split hurt not just because Hopkins had been Butler’s third-leading scorer the year before and was the best athlete on the team, but because Stevens knew the tough — nearly deadly — circumstances from which his 6-foot-1 guard had escaped thanks to basketball.
Desperate for a basketball net to break his free-fall, Hopkins thought of Wright State, the first school to recruit him out of Manual High School in Indianapolis and the program where he now had a good friend.
Kenny Washington had been his teammate at Manual and now was a student manager for the Raiders basketball team.
“I texted him and said I was leaving Butler and needed a place to play,” Hopkins said.
Washington passed the message on to Raiders head coach Billy Donlon, who knew Hopkins well.
“We came to a team camp at Wright State the summer before my sophomore season and I did really well,” Hopkins said. “They offered me a scholarship before I left.”
Donlon said he and then-Raiders assistant Victor Ebong recruited him “hard” after that, but eventually Hopkins said he got 60 Division I offers and ended up choosing Butler. He played in 21 games as a freshman and came off the bench in the Elite Eight game against Florida to spark a comeback win and a trip to the Final Four.
The following year he played in all 37 games, starting 24, and had several memorable outings, including scoring 19 points against Indiana in the first half alone.
Yet, what most impressed Donlon was the way Hopkins handled himself once basketball was taken away.
“Never at any time in our conversations — not in the beginning when guys can be defensive and not much, much later when you can look back on something with revisionist history — did he not take full responsibility,” the WSU coach said. “It’s a credit to him and the people at Butler and especially the influence of Brad Stevens and his staff. They developed a program that believes in accountability and Chrishawn held himself accountable.”
As Hopkins explained it: “I know I made a mistake, but I’ve learned from it and I’m moving forward. I’m not going to let it define me as a person.”
Besides, Hopkins said, he’s “been through a lot worse things in life.”
He said he lived with his mother — Tamika Slaughter — until he was 12, got into some trouble and she sent him to live with her mom, Sharon Watson.
That’s where he was that night a few years later when his grandmother’s house was riddled with bullets in a drive-by shooting.
“My uncle lived with us, too, and he was a big drug dealer,” Hopkins said. “I was lying in my bed playing a game when I heard ‘Pop…Pop…Pop…Pop…Pop’ and the windows were breaking. I think they said 15 shots hit the house. My auntie was sitting on the couch in the front room and she got hit.”
His aunt was released from the hospital a couple of weeks later, he said.
As for his uncle, Michael Watson, he’s now serving a 90-year prison sentence after stabbing a man to death in an unrelated incident in June 2011.
Back when the shooting happened, Chrishawn realized he needed a change of scenery and before his junior year of high school, he moved to Las Vegas to live with his father — a barber there — and he went to school and played basketball at Durango High School.
The following year he came back to Indianapolis, re-entered Manual and went to live with Vince Stennett, a former AAU coach and current junior college coach who became his guardian.
Hopkins averaged 25.8 points per game as a senior and was named the City Player of the Year by the Indianapolis Star. He said he chose Butler over WSU and Virginia and his college career was just taking off when he was dismissed.
“I saw (the dismissal) on ESPN and it was on all the local news channels and in the newspaper the next day,” Hopkins said. “I was really embarrassed and I don’t think I left the house — except to play in open gyms and some men’s leagues I joined — for three or four months.”
Filling a role
A couple of bigger schools made offers, but Hopkins chose the Raiders even though Wright State already had begun classes and he wouldn’t be able to enroll until the semester ended. That meant his one-year exile to meet NCAA transfer rules would cause him to miss the first 11 games this season.
“Although two BCS schools could have gotten him in right away, I believe significant people at Butler told him, ‘You need to go with some people who are going to care about you for more than just the player you are,’ ” Donlon said. “And I think Chrishawn sees it’s about a lot more than basketball with us.”
While sidelined, Hopkins was allowed to practice with the team. During home games, he sat on the bench in a dress shirt and tie next to assistant coach Bill Donlon Sr. Not allowed to travel, he listened to away games on the radio or went to the gym and shot around and waited for A. J. Pacher’s mom to text him updates.
Sunday he finally makes his debut. His family and several friends are coming over from Indianapolis and he said several Butler players with whom he stays in contact have wished him luck.
The Raiders — who returned their entire roster but are off to a disappointing 5-6 start — can use him.
“I don’t think his transition will be seamless — he’s been away from the game for over 20 months — but he’s really gifted athletically,” Donlon said. “He has great speed and unbelievable jumping ability.
“He gets along well with his teammates, too, but I’m sure there are some competitive juices flowing among them about (playing time.) But the guys know he’s going to make them better. And he knows we have a lot of good athletes on this team so he’ll have to play well to get extended minutes.”
Hopkins said he doesn’t know if he’ll be “rusty,” but he believes he can help his new team right away:
“I think my best attribute is my playmaking — finding the open guy, making the smart play, the winning play — and I think that’s what we’re missing now. I think I can fill that role. I think I can be the playmaker.
“Last year we got so close to winning the (Horizon League) tournament. I want the guys to be able to feel what that’s like, to win a championship and cut down the nets. I had that experience and it was great.”
In turn, he said his new teammates are helping him attain something special, as well:
“I thought nothing could compare to playing in the NCAA tournament and going to the Final Four. That was big in my life. But after being off so long and now getting a second chance, I feel this is the next big thing in my life. Maybe the biggest thing.”
Chrishawn Hopkins now realizes what will truly define him is not his past, but his future.