By Lucas Barlow
Only eight months ago, the Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball team won a national championship, just the third in school history.
The team accumulated a near-perfect 35-2 record, led by NJCAA Player of the Year, Shakur Juiston. The Blue Dragons beat St. Petersburg, Odessa and Northwest Florida State to advance to the finals. They then handled Eastern Florida State 84-58 en route to a championship.
This season marks Steve Eck’s ninth as coach, and he looks to improve his younger players.
“Our goal is to practice hard, get better everyday, and become as good as we can be,” Eck said.
Eck’s team returns six players in all, but only one starter. He believes returning players, J.J. Rhymes (16 ppg.) and Devonte Bandoo (13.5 ppg.), will be a couple players to lead the Blue Dragon squad.
As practices have been underway for just about a month, Eck looks to build his team in time for the first game.
“We’ll need to establish a good defense, and build an offensive that encourages teamwork,” Eck said. “Forming chemistry and getting the team to play as hard as they can is the most important.”
As defending national champions and back-to-back conference champs, the Blue Dragons are favorites to win the conference for a third time in a row, according to the Jayhawk Conference preseason coaches poll.
“Every team wants to beat us,” Eck said. “We are a rival to everyone and we have a big target on our chest. Each game is important and it’s going to be tough.”
The Blue Dragons open regular-season play as they host Friends University JV on Nov. 1. They begin conference play on Nov.11, when they take on Seward County Community College.