A year after reaching the NJCAA finals and winning a conference championship, the Hutchinson Community College men’s basketball program has received attention at the start of a new season. The Jayhawk Conference’s preseason coaches poll put the Blue Dragons at No. 1 to start the season, while the NJCAA preseason poll has them at No. 6 nationally.
But coach Steve Eck has been around the Jayhawk Conference long enough to know preseason polls are more of an indication on previous success than future predictions.
“It’s tough in community college because there’s turnover every year,” Eck said. “I had eight returning sophomores last year, but this year I’ve got three returning sophomores and only one that started. So we’re starting over.”
Such is life in the Jayhawk Conference, where returning players only get another year and newcomers are thrown into important roles. Those returners will get the full weight of expectations placed on them, especially early in the season as Hutchinson’s newcomers spend the first several weeks finding their roles and gaining experience.
Samajae Haynes-Jones, who orally committed to finish his college career at Wichita State after this season, is the top returner for Hutchinson. The second-team All-Jayhawk Conference guard will draw even more attention from opposing defenses, and Eck said his teammates will need to fill the remaining offensive void left by last year’s starters.
“He’s a good passer, and he knows he’ll have to give the ball up at times,” Eck said of Jones. “He’s not all about scoring points all the time. So this year we’ll have to have some freshmen step up to help.”
The incoming freshmen include three from Wichita. Guards Tiylar Cotton (North) and Roman Young (Sunrise) will compete for playing time in the backcourt, while 6-foot-7 forward Davon Gill (Heights) could be a presence at the post.
Cotton and Young will benefit from the leadership of Derby product James Conley, a returner who came off the bench last year to help Hutchinson make a run to the NJCAA championship game.
Sophomore Shakur Juiston is the other key returner. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound forward averaged 11 points and 8 rebounds and will be a secondary scoring threat after Jones.
Eck said Jones, Conley and Juiston will bear much of the responsibility early on.
“We’re going to have to find some freshmen to build around them,” he said. “We’re not going to be a one-man team. I’ve got five guys who can start, but the rest is going to take some time.”
The challenge will come in preparing the Blue Dragons for the new, 26-game Jayhawk Conference schedule that starts Nov. 12.
“It makes it the toughest conference schedule in the country,” Eck said. “There’s some good teams in conference, and we don’t have easy games going into conference, either.”