By Sam Ojeda
The Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball team is putting together a solid start to their 2023-2024 campaign. Coach Tommy DeSalme has the Blue Dragons bouncing back after a disappointing 2022-2023 season which saw them finish with a record of 20-12.
This season, HutchCC is 16-3 with a 11-2 record in Jayhawk Conference play after Wednesday’s win over Dodge City. Their offense this season is still putting up numbers, as it often does under DeSalme, but the other side of the court was where the adjustment was made for his group so that they could have the season they have had up to date.
Last season, the Blue Dragon defense allowed 91 points per game, which was by far the worst in the conference. So far this season, they are only allowing 73.4 points per game. This nearly 18-point improvement is good for seventh best in the conference.
Landon Wagler, who is one of only two returners from last year’s team, said he believes it is not necessarily the defense changes that have made the defense flip a switch.
“The style of play has not changed much, but the will of our team has,” Wagler said. “We are all bought into the defensive style we play which gives other teams problems.”
The other Blue Dragon returner had a more analytical approach to the defense changes. Kernan Bundy, who is a sophomore guard for HutchCC, said, “We do not trap as much, which forces us to guard (one on one) longer and has allowed us to get more rest of offense and defense.”
Most of DeSalme’s teams are known for playing defense for 94 feet, which is called a full-court trap. This season he has gone away from this and is seeing results on the court.
It is clear the investment is there for this year’s team and they do not show any signs of slowing down.
“We are more invested as a team,” Bundy said. “Now that we are into the second half of conference play, we have to continue to work hard and play as hard as we can.”
The Blue Dragons are third in the Jayhawk Conference and only one game behind both teams – Cowley and Barton – in front of them.
“We need to keep our momentum going by reminding ourselves that even though we are winning and towards the top of the conference, we want to win a region title and national title,” Wagler said.
Bundy backed up Wagler.
“Teams are going to be gunning for us to try to take us up at the top,” Bundy said.
While all games are important in conference play, there are two games on the schedule that really stand out for them. The Blue Dragons play both Cowley and Barton on the road. The Cougars and Tigers are tied at the top of the conference and have already beaten Hutch on the Blue Dragons home floor. Those will be considered must-win games if they want to win the KJCCC regular season title.
The Blue Dragons next game is Wednesday at Colby CC.