ESPN recently produced a fascinating series of programs entitled “Basketball: A Love Story,” a collection of short documentaries following the most interesting events and personalities in basketball over the past several decades. The love of the game was a common thread in each story.
I enjoy asking players about their own stories and how and when they became “hooked” on the game of basketball. Our community has been blessed with an abundance of great players including four Ohio “Mr. Basketball” honorees, a staggering achievement for a city our size. The stories of their love affair with the game is worth the telling.
Aaron Hutchins’ basketball career was the stuff of dreams. I was lucky enough to coach him in high school. He led Lima Central Catholic to three state tournaments and was selected as Ohio’s Mr. Basketball following the 1994 season. In the summer before his senior year at LCC he held offers from several mid-major colleges but, following a week at Five Star Basketball Camp, where he schooled several McDonald All American players, my phone rang of the hook. Hutchins ended up selecting Marquette University from over 60 scholarship offers.
Hutchins career at Marquette was legendary. He led them to two NCAA tournament berths and an NIT title game. Aaron’s name is plastered all over the record book at Marquette. Al McGuire, the colorful Hall of Fame coach who led Marquette to a national championship and, in retirement, was doing color for their radio broadcasts, called Hutchins his ‘favorite player.” After his senior season, Aaron was on the brink of a promising NBA career.
When I asked Hutchins about how he fell in love with the game, his eyes lit up.
“My mom (Vivian)took me to an Ohio Mixer’s game when I was six years old,” he remembers. “I couldn’t take my eyes off one their players, Wes Mathews. Just the way he moved and the way he dominated the game at his size stayed with me.” When the game was over, Matthews saw the young Hutchins standing by the locker room door and picked him up and carried him inside. “I think he must have seen that I was mesmerized by him,” remembers Hutchins. “I thought, wow, I want to be this guy someday.”
A few years later, Hutchins saw Mathews again. Mathews used the Ohio Mixers, a Lima based CBA professional team, as a stepping stone to the NBA. In 1987 Matthews was playing with the LA Lakers when they met the Celtics in the NBA finals. In the pivotal game four, down 1 with time expiring, Magic Johnson, famously, sank a running hook shot for the win. “My brother Anthony and I were big Laker fans and were watching the game from our couch,” Hutchins remembers. “I had bitten my nails to a nub and when he hit that shot, we went crazy. Magic ran down the court and the first one off the Laker bench to jump on him was Wes Mathews. I recognized him immediately and it sparked the memory of the first time I saw him.” The experience reinforced his love for the game and his desire to play at the highest level.
Hutchins’ development of his game involved some interesting improvisation. As a youngster, there was no basketball court near his home at the time but there was a funnel ball apparatus on the playground at Washington-McKinley School. “On weekends and after school, my brother Anthony and I would climb up on the roof of the school and find a kickball that the kids kicked up there during recess,” he remembers. “I spent hours shooting that ball up to the top of the funnel and running to the other side
and catching the ball as it came out of one of the shoots.” Want irony? The evolution of one of the greatest shooters I ever saw, began with a young boy shooting a kickball on an eight foot funnel game.
Hutchins unusual hoop beginnings caught the attention of David Liles, a youth basketball coach. “I was out there shooting on the funnel one day in the cold and Mr. Liles was going into the school for a practice,” he remembers. “He watched me awhile and, even though I was younger, he asked me to come in to practice with his 2nd grade team.” It was the beginning of his formal basketball career and he credits Liles for much of his development as a player.
Hutchins had several unusual drills he used to improve his game as a kid. “I liked to dribble the ball down Albert Street at night and try to bounce passes off the trees near the curb,” he says. “The street was not level and there were a lot of potholes so I had to be really careful. It made me a better ball handler and passer, but I think our neighbors thought I was crazy.”
Hutchins dream of playing in the NBA nearly came to fruition. After his senior year at Marquette he hired an agent and was advised by Marty Blake, the NBA’s long-time director of scouting, that he could be selected as high as the first round in the draft.. “I was packed and ready to fly the next day to Phoenix for the first NBA pre-draft camp,” he says. “I was in the best shape of my life and excited to take the next step.”
He remembers the day and exact time his basketball dream collapsed.
“It was 4:00 in the afternoon on April 21st,” he remembers. “I was sitting in the back seat, passenger side of a car, and we were broadsided. I remember the car spinning around in circles and then waking up in the hospital.” He didn’t want to admit it but his basketball career ended that day. He was determined to try to make the second pre-draft camp in June but his injuries included a broken jaw and compound fracture of his face. “I lost almost 30 pounds because I couldn’t eat,” he says. Hutchins never played competitive basketball again.
The experience impacted Hutchins for years. “I kind of went dormant for a long time,” says Hutchins. “I didn’t watch or listen to any basketball games for almost eight years,” he admits. “It just hurt too much.”
But Hutchins found his way back to the game he loved. He began helping as a volunteer on my staff at LCC and later with coach Frank Kill. He also gets great pleasure out of working with young kids on an individual basis. “I get more out of helping young players with their game now than I did when I was playing,” he says.
“I never lost my love for the game and it’s stronger now than it ever was.”
Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.