Halfway through his college career, the most heralded recruit in Boise State basketball history wasn’t making the impact he expected.
Only once did Chandler Hutchison tally more than seven points in a game during a rocky freshman season. Thirteen times that season, he either did not play or did not score at all. Hutchison shot more efficiently as a sophomore while yoyoing in and out of the Broncos’ starting lineup, but the 6-foot-7 swingman still only averaged a modest 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.
“My freshman year, I got a little entitled,” Hutchison said. “With all the noise about me being a top 80 recruit and the highest recruit Boise State had ever signed, it got to me mentally. I thought it was going to be easy for me. I learned quickly from not seeing the production and the minutes I wanted. I had to make a decision if I was going to really commit myself 100 percent and maximize my potential.”
Those struggles seem like a long time ago now considering the way Hutchison has blossomed since then. In a span of two years, he has evolved from underachieving role player into the Mountain West’s best all-around player and one of the fastest rising prospects in the 2018 NBA draft class.
Hutchison is averaging 19.7 points, 7.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists for a Boise State team that is one-half game back of first-place Nevada in the Mountain West and in contention for an at-large NCAA tournament bid. In Mountain West play, he has elevated his game even further for the Broncos (18-4, 8-2), averaging 23.8 points including a 44-point masterpiece in a victory over San Diego State and a 27-point effort in a narrow loss at Nevada.
What intrigues NBA scouts about Hutchison is his 7-foot wingspan, his natural feel as a passer and his ability to attack the basket off the dribble. Hutchison is making 70.9 percent of his baskets at the rim according to hoop-math.com, an impressive figure that highlights his body control and his ability to finish through contact.
One NBA scout told Yahoo Sports that Hutchison projects to be drafted in the late first round or early second round of next June’s draft. Only concerns about his still-developing outside shot may prevent him from going higher.
“He’s a good player, but his lack of shooting ability is an issue,” the scout said. “Who will he be similar to in the NBA? I think that’s a question that his proponents will need to be able to answer.”
Hutchison’s transformation from ordinary to extraordinary began with a gradual change in his mindset. It took awhile for the kid from sun-splashed Orange County to recognize how much potential he had and how hard he would have to work to maximize it.
Whereas some NBA prospects are hailed as future pros by the time they enter high school, Hutchison wasn’t one of Southern California’s most heralded players from a young age. He attended a high school known as a football power and played for fledgling AAU teams that didn’t have shoe-apparel sponsorships. He didn’t make Mission Viejo High School’s varsity team until his junior season and didn’t begin to receive a torrent of scholarship offers until the following spring.
“I met Chandler when he was maybe 15 or 16 years old, and he was just a long, gangly kid,” said Fullerton College coach Perry Webster, Hutchison’s former AAU coach. “He had no idea how to play, but he took these long strides and he just looked the part. I kind of had a feeling that if he could figure some things out, he could be really good.”
Despite Hutchison’s late-blooming talent and limited exposure, word of his talent gradually began to spread. He was long and athletic enough to guard multiple positions. He excelled crashing the offensive glass or attacking off the dribble in transition. And he would occasionally show flashes of unusual feel for the game, whether it was deft footwork in the paint, a pinpoint pass from the high post, or a timely backdoor cut from the wing when his defender overplayed him.
When Boise State coach Leon Rice first watched Hutchison at an AAU tournament in spring of his junior year of high school, it was at the urging of former Broncos assistant Jeff Linder. Right away, Rice thought, “That’s the guy we have to get.”
“You just saw a lot of potential,” Rice said. “He could get places with the ball. Obviously he couldn’t shoot or finish the way he does now, but we felt we could improve some of those things. To have a guy who could get anywhere he wanted with the ball and was long and athletic, you saw a lot of upside there.”
Hutchison chose Boise State before his senior season after narrowing his choices to the Broncos, Saint Mary’s and UC Irvine. The early commitment proved to be a coup for Boise State as a bunch of power-conference schools tried to get involved late with Hutchison to no avail after he averaged 19.5 points per game as a senior, led Mission Viejo to a 25-win season and emerged as a consensus top-100 recruit.
When Hutchison first arrived at Boise State, he spent as much time attending parties or playing video games as he did working on his craft. He had physically dominated high school competition without a refined perimeter skill set and he was naive enough to believe he could do the same in the Mountain West.
One reason Hutchison gradually grew more dedicated was that his playing time and production didn’t meet his own expectations. Another reason was that he knew Boise State would need him to do more his junior season with standouts James Webb, Mike Thompson and Anthony Drmic all departing. But maybe the biggest factor was the arrival of a new assistant coach whose expertise in skill development helped Hutchison tap into full potential.
Having worked closely with Portland Trailblazers all-star Damian Lillard while they both were at Weber State, Phil Beckner instantly commanded Hutchison’s respect. Beckner promised Hutchison he possessed the ability to be one of the all-time greats at Boise State if he just put in the work. Then he laid out a plan to help Hutchison tighten his ball handling, improve his jump shot and build the muscle necessary to finish through contact consistently at the rim.
“I’m so lucky that Phil came on this campus because he was the person that I needed,” Hutchison said. “I had this talent, I had this upside, I had this potential, but I didn’t know how to unlock it. When he came here, he had a plan. He would say at this time we’re going to watch film today, and then tomorrow we’re just going to do this, this and this. I started doing it and doing it, and eventually I saw the success and it became easy for me to want to do more.”
The results of Hutchison’s hard work were on display during a breakout junior season when he led Boise State in scoring and rebounding. He also shot 37.7 percent from behind the arc last season, a vast improvement over the previous year when he knocked down less than a quarter of the 3-pointers he attempted.
Hutchison’s ability to consistently sink catch-and-shoot jumpers has opened up the other aspects of his game for him. Now opposing defenders have to close out hard against him, leaving them vulnerable off the dribble.
There’s still room for improvement for Hutchison especially in his ability to consistently make shots off the dribble. But he’s come a long way from the kid who didn’t make varsity his first two years of high school and who made little impact at Boise State his first two years of college.
“The hardest thing to do when you’re growing up and maturing is to not have a victim mindset,” Hutchison said. “That’s one thing that’s been huge for me. I had to stop pointing fingers, stop blaming everyone else and look in the mirror. I had to quit the poor me stuff, start working harder and take advantage of the opportunities that I had.”
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