Chandler Hutchison was a popular guy when the 6-foot-7 senior’s Boise State team played at San Diego State late last month.
Six weeks earlier, the certain first-round NBA Draft pick had roughed up the Aztecs for a school-record 44 points, making 15 of 21 shots from the floor and 7-for-10 from 3-point range in an 84-81 victory.
When the Mountain West Conference adversaries played again in San Diego, suffice it to say the Aztecs weren’t going to let Hutchison go off again. They double-teamed him constantly, and the three other players who weren’t specifically assigned to shadow Hutchison kept close tabs on him, too.
"Every time he got the ball there were five sets of eyes on him, and that makes it tough,” Boise State coach Leon Rice said after the game.
Not surprisingly, Hutchison made just 4-for-14 from the floor and Boise State lost 72-64.
There were several other sets of eyes on Hutchison that night -- 34 NBA scouts attended the game. And though San Diego State’s suffocating defense meant the scouts weren’t treated to Hutchison’s best offensive work -- he scored 18 points with the help of a 10-for-15 effort at the free-throw line -- they nevertheless saw plenty to fill their notebooks. Once again displaying the versatility that attracted that much NBA attention in the first place, Hutchison contributed nine rebounds, five assists and a steal.
Hutchison has come a long way in two years, when Rice, after Hutchison’s underwhelming sophomore season, scribbled in a notebook that he was making it a priority to help the player “discover his hidden treasures.”
Rice laughs at the recollection of that particular journal entry.
“You never know what [players] see in themselves,” he said. “That’s what I saw in him. I saw that he had all these tools to reach the potential that he’s reached now. Oh my God, it’s all there. He had all these things that you can’t teach. I felt like if we could teach him some other things that he didn’t have, we’d have something special.”
The rate he improves at is unbelievable. What he’s done in two years is crazy.”
Rice had a plan to help Hutchinson tap into that potential. Over the years he had become friends with Phil Beckner, who, as an assistant coach at Weber State, was credited with helping turn Damian Lillard into a lottery pick and NBA star. Rice wanted Beckner -- who by then was working in player development for the Oklahoma City Thunder -- to join his staff. His sales pitch was irresistible to an X and O, workout junkie like Beckner. Rice had another Lillard in the rough in Hutchison -- a long, athletic, cerebral player who needed some fine-tuning and the motivation to make changes in order to realize his potential and become a star.
Beckner jumped at the opportunity. He recalls his first workout session with Hutchison.
“I saw a kid oozing with potential,” Beckner said. “He had so many tools and so many gifts that hadn’t been tapped into yet. What I saw was this big, tall, long athletic kid who was ready to be molded into a great player.”
Hutchison’s recollection of that day differs a bit, more than likely because of the culture shock he experienced. Not that Rice, a disciple of Gonzaga coach Mark Few and a good coach in his own right, hadn’t put Hutchison through his paces. But this was different.
“I’d just met [Beckner], and he’s telling me I’ve got to do this and do that,” Hutchison said. “And I’m like, hold up, who is this guy? Is what he’s telling me to do going to work?”
It didn’t take long for Hutchison and Beckner to bond, and once trust had been established, Hutchison was ready to go to work. He developed what he called a “no choice,” mindset. In other words, Hutchison had no Plan B. It was the NBA or bust.
Beckner noticed early that Hutchison’s work ethic wasn’t where it needed to be, not if he wanted to play in the NBA. Once Hutchison made that commitment to do whatever it took, Beckner developed a plan.
“He was skinny kid,” Beckner said. “He didn’t play with a lot of force. So we worked on strength of force and movement with his footwork and ball handling. We mastered finishing around the basket. And then the other component, which you’re seeing this year, he’s become a better shooter.”
Hutchison made a huge jump from his sophomore year -- when he averaged 6.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists and shot .231 percent from 3 -- to his junior season, when those numbers climbed to 17.4, 7.8, 2.6 and .377. In 2017-18, Hutchison had continued to make subtle improvements. His scoring average is up (19.8), but so are his assists (3.5).
“The rate he improves at is unbelievable,” Beckner said. “What he’s done in two years is crazy.”
Beckner points to a play Hutchison made in a 73-71 win at New Mexico in early February as evidence that total transformation has been achieved. Boise State had to rally in the second half, but Hutchison didn’t feel compelled to be a one-man show. Late in the game, he moved around a high ball screen, but instead of driving into a couple of Lobo defenders, he spotted teammate Chris Sengfelder, a 6-foot-9, 246-pound power forward, alone at the 3-point line and threw him a crisp pass. Sengfelder, a .381 3-point shooter, jumped up and made a critical basket.
“Chandler could have forced it to the rack, but he had three bodies in front of him,” Beckner said. “He’s seeing that, every night, the whole defense is loaded up to stop him. So instead of making the wrong play, he made the right play. If we don’t hit that 3, we don’t win the game.”
Plays like that are what have endeared Hutchison to scouts. He doesn’t project to a limited role in the NBA. He’s got the entire package.
“He’s got great size and a point guard’s feel for the game,” Rice said. “People are surprised that he’s bigger than they think when they stand next to him. That kind of size, coupled with feel, add in his other skills … everybody [NBA scouts] loves him.”
Hutchison’s work with Beckner has provided an added benefit. During the summer, he gets to train with Lillard, and witness, as Beckner puts it, what it’s like to be a “freak worker.”
“We’ve got some things in common, both being from mid-major schools” Hutchison said of Lillard. “He had to outwork a bunch of guys that were maybe recruited above him or got more hype than him. There are things I’ve taken away from being around him—how hard he works, his outlook on the game, on life. Seeing how he carries himself in everything he does, every decision he makes, even how he talks. He’s just a complete professional.
“I’ve got so much respect for him. He’s shown me that, to get to where you want to go, you’ve got to put the time in. You’ve got to be willing to outwork everybody else. When I say I have no choice, I really mean it. This is the path I’m on. I have no other choice.”
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.