Hutcherson has rediscovered his love for the game through injuries, tribulations

Junior+Austin+Hutcherson+poses+for+a+promotional+image.+

Photo Courtesy of Fighting Illini Athletics

Junior Austin Hutcherson poses for a promotional image.

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

When Austin Hutcherson steps on the court at Ubben Basketball Practice Facility, he knows he defeated the odds to get there.

Constant injuries and setbacks defined Hutcherson’s high school career. Limited to just one AAU season, Hutcherson had little time to get noticed. The Freehold, New Jersey native graduated from high school with no Division I offers, so he elected to go to a Division III school, Wesleyan University. But the injuries still took a toll on Hutcherson.

“That constant playing and then set back, playing and then setback, playing and then setback, messed with my head a little bit and made it tough to get a good feel for the game,” Hutcherson said. “(It) messed with my head a little bit and made it tough to get a good feel for the game.”

It’s a good thing for Wesleyan that Hutcherson elected to stay with basketball. In his two years there, he was dominant. As a freshman, Hutcherson averaged 12 points per game, on 44% shooting from three. He started nearly every game and scored a season-high 33 points in Wesleyan’s first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.

A healthy offseason for Hutcherson meant even more improvement. As a sophomore he tore up the New England Small College Athletic Conference, scoring 20 points-per-game on 39.2% shooting from three, leading the conference in both categories.

Playing at a Division III school may not have always been the goal for Hutcherson, but those two seasons at Wesleyan helped him as a player and helped him renew his passion for the game.

“I think having those two years where I just got to play basketball and not having to worry about being hurt all the time, I think I just fell in love with the game and really enjoyed basketball,” Hutcherson said. “(I) got to actually play the game and feel that growth of getting better.”

After dominating at Wesleyan for two seasons, Hutcherson made the decision to transfer to a Division I school, committing to Illinois. Due to NCAA transfer rules, Hutcherson was forced to sit out last season. At first, it wasn’t easy. While his teammates spent the summer practicing together, Hutcherson did not get on the court with them until school started in August. He admits it was an adjustment learning a new offense and having to sit on the sideline while the rotation players took reps. But, by an early point in the season, things started to improve.

“Eventually, towards November, December, January is when I really started to feel comfortable,” Hutcherson said. “And I think that’s when I started to string together some really good practices and those bad days started to decrease.

A year later, Hutcherson had a full summer to work with his teammates. He has a comprehension of the offense, has developed chemistry with his running mates and has an improved feel for the game. When he checks in for the first time at the State Farm Center, sporting the number 22, his long-winding path in basketball will have hit its peak.

“I went from a senior in high school, not even knowing if I was gonna play basketball in college,” Hutcherson said. “Then I went D-III, had two amazing seasons and now I’m at the top of college basketball. I really can’t even put it into words. It’s just a crazy story and I feel really really lucky and blessed to be here.”

 

@BrandonSimberg

[email protected]