HUTCHINSON, Kan. The Sports Arena here is the annual site of the National Junior College Athletic Association's Division I basketball championship.
But the old-school gym also looks like it hosts an NCAA college logo fashion show with mostly middle-aged men as the models.
Sporting apparel with their programs' colors and mascots, big-eyed coaches from four-year programs flocked here this week from all over the country from Hawaii (Bob Nash) to West Virginia (Bob Huggins).
A bunch came from the Beehive State for the unofficial coaches convention, too, including Utah Valley's Dick Hunsaker, Weber State's Randy Rahe, Dixie State's Jon Judkins, Utah State assistant James Ware and Southern Utah's Johnny Brown. Louisiana Tech coach Kerry Rupp, who formerly coached at Utah and East High, also showed up.
Hunsaker calls the tournament "a collection of the greatest junior college talent in the country," which turns it into a mecca for coaches. About 150 coaches from every conference in the country will attend the NJCAA tourney, Ware guesstimated.
The coaches still sticking around today will get a chance to watch SLCC try to earn a spot in the NJCAA final at 5 p.m. against Three Rivers (Mo.) Community College.
While it's fun for many coaches to fraternize friends Ware and Rahe even shared a hotel room Hunsaker wouldn't mind if the only college insignias at the tournament were those from NJCAA schools. That'd make his job easier.
"I'd rather see none of those logos. I'd prefer zero," Hunsaker said with a laugh. "Any gathering of a talent pool like this, you're going to see a busload of coaches show up to watch."
Like most, USU comes to keep tabs on sophomores and to start building a freshman recruiting list.
"If they're here, they're here for a reason," Ware said. "It's pretty much the best in the country."
The coach circus is why SLCC coach Norm Parrish said the juco tourney is "absolutely" a jackpot for his players.
"Now that we're (in) 'Hutch' the recruiting thing really breaks out. ... It's kind of nuts, but that's the way it works," he said. "It'll be good for them."
As an example, Parrish referred to the Bruins' last trip here in 1994. Going in, then-SLCC center Chad Kartchner was only being talked to "a little" by SUU. After a fifth-place finish, however, the center was invited for official visits to LSU, SUU, Portland and Charleston Southern, where he ended up going.
Due to NCAA rules, coaches can't talk about recruits and they can only have a casual greeting conversation with the players. That's why Ware stayed mum when asked about SLCC shooting guard Brian Green of Davis High, who is being looked at by USU and Weber State, among others.
"Can't comment," Ware said. "Sure like watching him."
Ware only smiled when asked who else he sure liked watching.
He likely hasn't been the only coach to be impressed with Green. At 5-11, the sophomore shooting guard might be undersize, but he's averaged 19 points so far while leading the Bruins to the NJCAA semifinals. The next level will probably have to wait for Green, though. He plans on serving an LDS mission after this season.
"I think it's awesome. I love it. I always play better when I know college coaches are looking at me. I don't really get nervous," Green said. "Hopefully we can get more schools looking at our whole team."
SLCC reserves Papa Samba Guisse (6-9 center), Aaron Smith (6-8 forward) and Yahosh Bonner (6-0 guard) will be among the players who will likely benefit the most. The athletic Vassy Banny was offered a scholarship by Hawaii before the tourney and could see his stock rise, too.
"A couple have just blown up," said Parrish, who expects to be busy taking phone calls about his now-coveted players. "It's neat for them. It's going to open more doors."
Players know that they're being watched, but they say it's not their top priority right now.
"We don't know who's going to be in the gym, so it doesn't really matter," said SLCC guard DaVell Jackson, a former UNLV football recruit who's hoping to play Division I hoops. "We're (here) to get a scholarship maybe, but obviously we're (here) to win the whole thing."
Casey Robinson, a former all-stater from Manila High, had several coaches waiting to see him/be seen by him after his games and practices. He is being looked at by Weber State and Dixie State, along with other Division II schools. He didn't try to play harder to impress anyone, though.
"I'm going to play the same every game," he said. "There's no change in how I play. I'm going to give all I've got every game."
Which probably explains why a bunch of coaches waited outside of Eastern Wyoming's locker room and why one recruiter said coaches had to "get in line" for the Lancers' big man.In these parts, there are a lot of long lines.
No. 4 SLCC (31-3) vs. No. 19 Three Rivers CC (29-6) Sports Arena
Today, 5 p.m. (MDT)
E-mail: [email protected]