Two years before he would become his coach, Phil Beckner met with Chandler Hutchison as a favor to a friend.
Hutchison was a 6-foot-7, 170-pound freshman guard for the Boise State men’s basketball team, and coach Leon Rice and assistant coach Jeff Linder thought Beckner could provide Hutchison with some pointers.
“I could tell he was really, really talented, but just kind of questioned what most people questioned about him. How serious is this kid about basketball? How serious is he about being a real player some day?” said Beckner, who was then an assistant coach in the NBA Development League.
“After I’d met him and talked to him, I knew he was really, really smart. He was a great kid who had a whole lot of talent, but at the end of the day I was like: ‘I don’t know if he wants to be really good or not. I don’t know how serious he is about basketball and his future.’ ”
When Linder and another assistant left Boise State after the 2015-16 season, Rice added Beckner to the Broncos’ coaching staff — and he went to work on Hutchison.
“I don’t think that I’d be where I am right now if (Beckner) doesn’t wind up coming here two years ago,” said Hutchison, who now weighs about 200 pounds. “It’s really a crazy story.”
Hutchison is now five Mountain West Conference regular-season games — and, potentially, a historic postseason — away from finishing his Boise State career. He leads the Broncos in points (20.3), rebounds (7.6), assists (3.4) and steals (1.3) and set a single-game, school record with 44 points against San Diego State on Jan. 13.
Many experts believe Hutchison has the potential to be a first-round pick in this June’s NBA Draft, and the first Boise State player selected since Roberto Bergersen in 1999.
But it took Beckner’s belief and a trusting leap from Hutchison to get him there.
“I think he and I would both agree that I did want it more for him at times ... but that’s also been a weakness of mine as a coach,” Beckner said. “... The reason why, truly, whether it’s deeply emotional, whatever, is I knew he had it in him. I knew he could be really, really special, and I didn’t want him to waste that opportunity and live a life of regret.”
Beckner began having one-on-one meetings with his new players in the spring before the start of the 2016-17 season — Hutchison’s junior year.
Hutchison averaged 6.8 points and 4.1 rebounds with seven starts as a sophomore. Rice said Hutchison showed flashes of the talent he possessed, but never on a consistent basis.
“I really think he was living with a false sense of reality,” Beckner said of his first conversations with Hutchison. “I asked him, ‘Do you think you can make the NBA?’ And he’s like, ‘Yeah.’ ‘Do you think you’re going to be a really good player here?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to be really good.’ ‘Do you think you’re going to start next year?’ And he’s like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to start.’ But he wasn’t working.”
Internally, Hutchison says he knew he hadn’t committed fully to being his best. He often would back down from challenges when they seemed too intimidating. He wanted more, but he didn’t know how to get there.
“That was probably the hardest thing, was making him understand that you can’t get there if it’s a part-time job,” Rice said. “You can’t get there if you’re 85 percent in and you want to go float the river and do 50 other things. You’ve got to make a choice, and his choices were going to dictate how good a player he became, and that’s where it started and that’s where Phil was willing to fight on a daily basis for that for him.”
THE FIGHT BEGINS
Beckner and Hutchison viewed each other with skepticism the first few months.
They didn’t really know each other yet, and that made things uncomfortable, especially for Hutchison.
“When I met him, it was almost kind of intimidating at first because he’s a no-BS guy,” Hutchison said. “He’s straightforward. He’ll tell you the truth whether you like it or not.”
The truth might have been too much for Hutchison at times, so Beckner had to learn to bite his tongue.
Beckner recalls one day in particular when the two were working on a drill that required Hutchison to shoot from awkward positions.
“He would miss shots and he would giggle afterwards,” Beckner said. “I had to get past that. If I’m going to reach this kid or help him, I can’t just kill him for giggling right now. I can’t walk off the court and be like: ‘You’re too soft. Soft guys giggle.’ He and I both had to get past a lot of that stuff.”
SOFT, IMMATURE, ENTITLED
Rice recruited Hutchison from Mission Viejo (Calif.) High.
Players from that area are sometimes called “Orange County soft,” and Hutchison might have been.
Hutchison hasn’t always been the go-to guy in the closing minutes of a tight game like he is now. He wasn’t always the player bringing teammates together in the huddle. He didn’t always lead by example.
As a freshman and sophomore, Hutchison deferred to the older, more developed players on the team.
“I always kind of felt sorry for him having to deal with (former star Anthony) Drmic every day,” Rice said. “Drmic didn’t play basketball to see who was better at basketball, he played to see who was tougher. So every day at practice was a toughness test for Chandler, and I don’t think he was quite ready for the Drmic treatment right away.”
If Hutchison was going to become an NBA-caliber player, being soft wouldn’t cut it, and Beckner wasn’t going to tiptoe around the issue.
“When I got here, he had a lot of those labels — soft, immature, entitled, those type of things. We would spend time talking about those labels and how to dispel them. We would spend time talking about: ‘You know what? You are a little soft. You are a lot soft,’ ” Beckner said. “We were able to develop that relationship and that trust, and I think what I was willing to do vs. some other people in his life or other critics or whatever was I was willing to accept those labels with him, but then try to fight them for him.”
ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE
Hutchison began to buy into Beckner’s development plan his junior year. He started all 32 games, led the Broncos with 17.4 points and 7.8 rebounds per game and was named to the All-Mountain West first team.
Then he declared for the 2017 NBA Draft and worked out for several NBA teams before deciding to return to Boise State for his senior season.
There was still more work to be done.
“I realized nothing’s going to be given to me,” Hutchison said.
That’s when Beckner knew his pupil understood.
“This is what truly makes him special. How many 20-, 21-year-olds are willing to look at their deficiencies and say: ‘I am not going to lose self-esteem. I am not going to lose confidence. I am going to fight these and break these and in turn it’s going to make me an NBA player someday,’ ” Beckner said. “ ‘In turn it’s going to make me the best player in the history of Boise State basketball.’ ”
The 2018 NBA Draft isn’t until June 21.
That’s more than four months away, and Hutchison has a more immediate goal. At his heart, he has always been a team player.
That’s why Hutchison can score 44 points in one game and lead the Broncos in assists the next.
“Chandler, he can get 30 (points) any time he wants,” Boise State sophomore Marcus Dickinson said. “But he’s probably the most unselfish person I’ve ever played with.”
Leading the league in scoring or being named the Mountain West Player of the Year isn’t what matters to Hutchison.
Boise State never has reached the final of the Mountain West men’s basketball tournament or won a game in the NCAA Tournament. Hutchison has made both realistic goals this year.
“For me, the goal that’s right in front of me is just finishing the season with a Mountain West championship. That’s honestly the biggest thing,” Hutchison said. “It’s tough for me sometimes to talk about the next level with the whole NBA talk and things like that because for me, I see that as so far down the road. It’s something that’s going to come eventually, and I just want to take it for where I am right now, which is an opportunity to win the league.”
While Hutchison may not be ready to talk about the NBA, his coaches and teammates know this “special” 2017-18 season is disappearing faster than they would like.
The Broncos only have three more home games — Nevada (Wednesday), Air Force (Saturday) and Wyoming (March 3).
Sooner or later, Hutchison will have to hand in his No. 15 jersey.
“I’ve always had that same support circle. People praying for me, family always on my side that always saw the bigger vision for me and always saw it even when I didn’t, believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself,” Hutchison said. “It makes it a lot easier to see this as just a plan bigger than myself that has always kind of been there, but also at the same time I want to see it and be like, ‘If I didn’t make these decisions, no matter who was in my corner, it might not have happened.’ ”
That’s why Beckner believed and Hutchison took that leap.