By Aubreigh Heck
The Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball team was a clean slate for coach Tommy DeSalme. There were no returning players or coaches from the previous season.
DeSalme took this fresh group and made the NJCAA Division 1 National Tournament.
The No. 12-seeded Blue Dragons avoided the upset and defeated No. 21 Connors State in overtime in the first round. HutchCC then followed it up with a second-round 85-62 loss to No. 5 Chipola on Wednesday in the second round at the Sports Arena.
“We have a tough group,” sophomore guard Angelo Stuart said. “It was echoed in the locker room. We won a lot of games this season because of our tough group. I’m really proud of our guys despite the loss.”
Stuart finished fourth in the NJCAA for points scored, averaging 21.5 pointer-per-game.
Jacquez Yow was one among four transfers from Cowley College, where DeSalme had been the head coach the previous season.
“I had a couple schools who were interested looking at me, but I trusted Coach DeSalme more,” Yow said. “He’s probably one of my favorite coaches of all time. I trusted him, made the move to Hutch and haven’t looked back since. I’m glad I did it, it’s been a great turn-out.”
Although not a Cowley transfer, Stuart agreed with Yow.
“(DeSalme) taught me to be tough,” Stuart said. “There’s time where I doubt myself, since I stepped foot at Hutch, he’s never doubted me. He forces me to be aggressive and believe in myself. I’m forever grateful to Coach DeSalme and the rest of the staff here.”
Despite the loss to Chipola, the Blue Dragons held their collective heads up.
“I’m proud of the team, coach and everyone around Hutch,” sophomore Nate Goodlow said.
DeSalme echoed those comments.
“Overall, we really overachieved this year in a lot of ways,” DeSalme said. “As a coach, that’s what you want. Whatever your talent level is, you want your team to overachieve. If they’re very talented you want them to take that next step and play really hard. You want to out jump your skis if you can.”
The Blue Dragons started their season 13-0, and were ranked No. 5 in the nation at one point. They finished second in the Jayhawk Conference and the Region 6 Tournament. They earned an at-large bid to the NJCAA Tournament. Their final record on the season was 26-9.
“What an incredible atmosphere,” DeSalme said. “The Blue Dragons’ fans were out in full support, that’s what makes it really special. That’s why it’s the best job in juco.”
The tournament is played at the Hutchinson Sports Arena. While the Blue Dragons are technically on a neutral court, they are able to gather a large crowd to cheer them on.
“Hutch is a high-level place,” DeSalme said. “The fans are high-level, they’re knowledgeable and they talk to you, they really care. The administration cares, the athletic department cares, it’s set up like the best program in the country. You know that as a coach, that’s what you want. Not every place is like that, I’ve been all over and here is just something really special. I can’t wait for the next go-around, we know what we need and what we need to do. This is just the start.”