The question, Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball coach Steve Eck points out, is redundant.
“It just is,” Eck says, matter-of-factly. “Of course we’re disappointed with how the season ended. Every team is disappointed with how the season ended except one.”
Eck’s pursuit of a national title has never seemed more clear-cut than right now, coming off his first Region VI title and with 6-foot-3 sophomore guard and Jayhawk West MVP Kadeem Allen back on a team ranked fourth nationally.
Allen averaged 17.3 points, 3.8 assists and a Region VI-leading 2.3 steals as a freshman, when the Blue Dragons were ousted in the first round of the NJCAA Division I Tournament, blowing a halftime lead on their home floor. It was Hutchinson’s first trip to nationals in 16 years.
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“We want to get everybody on the same page so we can win the national championship,” Allen said. “Let it flow, let it go and let’s see how this season shapes up. Last year stung for us. We were supposed to win and now we want to get over the hump.”
Allen’s focus on the season speaks volumes to the mindset of the entire team for several reasons. The Wilmington, N.C., native has a self-described basketball obsession that is easy to pick up on. He and the game have become one and the same.
“Basketball is in my mind, man, it’s flowing through my veins,” Allen said. “If I’m on the Internet, I’m watching Kevin Durant and Jamal Crawford ... just the way they use so many different moves. Anything I can do to get an advantage.”
He’s also Hutchinson’s hardest worker in practice and in training sessions.
“You want your best player to be your hardest worker,” Eck said. “Kadeem’s doing a good job of being a leader.”
And, most importantly, he’s not letting the rapidly speeding-up world around him have an impact on what’s going on this season. Allen committed to Arizona recently, flying to Tucson for his visit just hours after a recent scrimmage at Newman. Allen also had offers from Oklahoma State and Kansas.
“He’s staying grounded, staying focused,” Eck said. “It’s tough for a kid to leave here and go visit Arizona because, you know, if I was a 19-year-old young man with offers from KU and those places and I had to think about a scrimmage ... he’s a good, good guy. I’ll say that. He’s handling it.”
Eck has built a solid supporting cast around Allen, including the return of 6-7 forward Tafari Whittingham and the addition of 6-10, 270-pound sophomore forward Coreontae DeBerry, who transferred to Hutchinson from Mott Community College and has already committed to Cincinnati.
Eck said Wichita East product Nathan Jackson, a 6-5 forward, could also be in the starting lineup.
“Coreontae is a monster, once he gets in the lane I don’t think anyone in the country can stop him,” Allen said. “We’ve got him, we’ve got Tafari ... we’ve got some good pieces.”
Just don’t expect Eck to go out of his way to take advantage of any of the new pieces available to him as part of the Jayhawk Conference’s massive overhaul to its rules. He’s a staunch opponent of teams now being permitted to have eight out-of-state players on the roster.
“It’s not going to change how we do things, that’s for sure,” Eck said. “I don’t like the rule at all. I like having in-state kids. Now, you get teams with eight out-of-staters and they just need to find one in-state kid and they’ve got a team. Some teams, they’re not going to bother with (in-state recruiting) anymore.
“I think it hurts the Kansas kids the most. I’m not for it and it won’t benefit us. We’re going to stick with the way we’ve been recruiting.”