Hutchison Is Expected To Be The Conference’s Player of the Year
The Boise State star is a first round NBA Draft projection in most draft sources, but his climb has been far from easy
Hutchison, Boise State battle Nevada on Wednesday night for first place in the Mountain West
It’s hard to believe that the headlining player in college basketball’s biggest matchup Wednesday night wasn’t even a consistent varsity starter until late in his high school career.
Even two seasons ago, not many would have expected the Boise State guard would be in the position he is today. On Wednesday night, he leads the Broncos into a battle for first place in the Mountain West, potentially paving the way towards the program’s second conference title.
That player, of course, is Chandler Hutchison.
You might know him as the highest-rated recruit in Boise State’s program history.
Maybe you recognize his name from one of many NBA Draft previews, consistently named the 2018 draft’s diamond in the rough.
If you were flipping through channels last month, you might have seen him drop 44 points on 21 field goal attempts in a thrilling win over San Diego State.
Regardless of what you know or how long you have known about Hutchison, his path towards the national stage has been anything but typical for a mid-major star.
Unlike most players who share Hutchison’s prominence, his excellence at both Mission Viejo Viejo High School and Boise State did not come immediately. His ability to focus on self-improvement, dedication and patience is the reason the 20.3-points per game scorer is the runaway favorite for the league’s player of the year award.
I was fortunate enough to sit down with Jon Solovy, one of Hutchison’s coaches from Mission Viejo High School, to discuss how the late-blooming Orange County native has blossomed into a projected first round pick.
“He had to wait his turn to be the guy,” Solovy said of Hutchison.
Though he arrived at Viejo as a player who was projected to play D-I basketball, Hutchison’s first two seasons – much like his first two at Boise State – were mostly forgettable.
He was a member of the freshman team his first season with the Diablos, spent almost the entirety of his sophomore season with the junior varsity squad, and wasn’t even a top scorer on his own team until his final year of high school.
“Not until his junior year did Chandler become a name other schools got to know for scouting reports,” Solovy said. “The entire coaching staff couldn’t believe the lack of attention he was getting.”
The Orange County stigma is well-documented. Players from the area have been known to be soft, talented but not hard-working, and slow to develop. Paired with his incredibly lanky body and formidable athleticism, Hutchison was an attractive high school prospect, but because he was late to arrive to the scene, Hutchison was a consensus top 100 recruit with hardly any D-I offers. At least part of the reason Hutchison failed to draw much D-I interest was due to the parallels between Hutchison and players from the area who had been disappointments in the past.
As an underclassman, Hutchison played behind swingman Evan Zeller, who went on to lead the team in scoring, assists, and steals as a senior. Because Viejo possessed an upperclassmen-heavy roster when Hutchison was a sophomore and junior, his opportunities to break the starting rotation were rather limited.
As Hutchison has learned throughout his basketball career, though, patience would never fail him.
Though at one point it appeared that Hutchison would have a tough time earning a D-I scholarship right out of high school, Boise State’s Leon Rice was all-in on the swingman with oozing potential. Rice discovered Hutchison the summer before his senior year, refusing to buy into the Orange County skeptics. After one visit to the campus, Hutchison was sold on donning the blue and orange. He signed with Boise State in September of 2013, fourteen months before his college debut against San Diego on November 14, 2014.
Once he had his opportunity to be the guy at Viejo, he delivered. He scored 19.5 points per game as a senior, earning first-team All-South Coast League honors.
Hutchison’s first two seasons at Boise were much like his first two at Mission Viejo. Though he started the final 18 games of his freshman season, Hutchison oftentimes looked out of place. He finished the season averaging 3.1 points in 12.3 minutes per game while shooting 35.6% from the floor.
He showed more flashes of potential as a sophomore, but he was still largely buried in another upperclassmen-heavy roster. The Boise State roster had four seniors, but each of the four were guards or wings, including Anthony Drmic, Mikey Thompson, Lonnie Jackson, and Montigo Alford. He started eight of his 31 appearances that season, again showing positive signs but did not appear ready to be a starter on the Broncos. His frame wasn’t even close to filled out, his jumper was inconsistent at best, and the coaching staff didn’t think he had worked hard enough to maximize his potential.
Then, the summer of 2016 happened. Hutchison paired with assistant coach Phil Beckner, who worked alongside Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard at Weber State, to revitalize Hutchison’s game.
The result? Well, Hutchison was arguably the nation’s most improved player in 2017. He started all 32 games, played 31.7 minutes per game, more than doubled his scoring average from 6.8 to 17.4, nearly doubled his rebounding average from 4.1 to 7.8, and, for the first time as a basketball player, had a reliable jump shot. He was named to the conference’s first team, pacing the Broncos with a career-best 34 points in an N.I.T. upset of Utah.
He was already a household name by that point, but was far from finished. His first two seasons were quiet, but each summer he had made sacrifices to better himself and his team. Another substantial leap as a senior would allow Hutchison to be the conference’s best player, and maybe even push Boise State to the top of the Mountain West.
Hutchison declared for the NBA Draft after completing his junior season. Being drafted was a long shot, but due to the draft’s new rules, Hutchison could return to college if he didn’t sign an agent. He received valuable feedback from scouts, most indicating that his jumper, left-handed abilities and body frame left something to be desired.
He responded by adding muscle, hoisting up hundreds of jumpers on a daily basis, and continuing to work on improving his overall game.
The results have been remarkable.
He leads the conference in scoring (20.2 points per game) and defensive rating (0.930 points per possession), and is in the top 10 in field goal percentage (48.5%), rebounds per game (7.6), assists per game (3.4), and steals per game (1.3). His perimeter shooting is now a reliable threat (33-95 from three-point range) instead of a detriment, especially when paired with his elite driving and finishing ability at the rim.
As of Wednesday, Hutchison is among the national individual rankings in usage rate, true shooting percentage, defensive rebounding percentage, assist rate, steal rate, and free throw rate. He torched San Diego State with one of the most efficient 40+ point performances ever in January, hit a game-winner in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off against UTEP, and had clutch defensive plays to complete a dramatic comeback over New Mexico last week on the road.
“Chandler is an incredible example for kids and parents out there to not complain. A lot of people could learn from how he handled himself to better his future,” Sovoy said, unsurprised and inspired by Hutchison’s development into a potential NBA lottery pick.
On Wednesday morning, Hutchison was named one of the country’s finalists for the Naismith Award, given to college basketball’s best player. Hutchison will hope to carry his 20-5 Broncos into an NCAA Tournament run next month.
The journey begins Wednesday night with a massive matchup against conference foe Nevada at Taco Bell Arena.
Eli Boettger is the lead basketball writer at Mountain West Wire. He’s covered Mountain West basketball since 2015 and has been featured on Bleacher Report, NBC Sports, SB Nation, Yahoo Sports, MSN, and other platforms. You can also find Eli’s work on his personal blog, heatcheckcbb.com, where he covers college basketball from a statistical perspective. Boettger is a current USBWA member.