With the 2017 national championship in the rear-view mirror, Blue Dragon head coach Steve Eck and the Blue Dragons open the 2017-18 season Wednesday. (Joel Powers/Blue Dragon Sports Information)
With the 2017 national championship in the rear-view mirror, Blue Dragon head coach Steve Eck and the Blue Dragons open the 2017-18 season Wednesday. (Joel Powers/Blue Dragon Sports Information)

No. 1 Hutchinson (0-0) vs. Friends University JV
2017-18 Season Opener

When: Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Where: Hutchinson Sports Arena

Game Time: 7:30 p.m.

Live Radio: KHUT-FM (102.9); KWBW-AM/FM (1450/98.5), 7:20 p.m.

Video: Blue Dragon Sports Network, 7:20 p.m.

Twitter: @bluedragonsport

Hutchinson CC Sports Information

Going all the way back to the 1950s, the Hutchinson Community College men's basketball team has always faced opponents' best efforts.

It's part of everyday life for the Blue Dragons, the winningest junior college men's program in history.

The 2017-18 Blue Dragons will expect nothing less as the new season opens on Wednesday at the Sports Arena against the Friends University Junior Varsity at 7:30 p.m. But the Blue Dragons are the defending national champions and preseason No. 1 for this season.

Ninth-year head coach Steve Eck is trying to instill that into the 2017-18 Blue Dragons. Another fact that he's trying to make stick is that while the 2017 national championship was a great achievement, it's now in the past and he wants this team not to dwell on it as this season progresses.

The 2016-17 Blue Dragons posted an overall 35-2 record and won the Jayhawk Conference for the second-straight season and 36th time overall. Despite falling in the Region VI Tournament championship game, Hutchinson qualified for the national tournament as an at-large selection defeated St. Petersburg, Odessa, Northwest Florida State and Eastern Florida State to win its first national championship since 1994.

What the Dragons will have to replace is 2017 NJCAA and NABC National Player of the Year Shakur Juiston, guards Samajae Haynes-Jones and James Conley – all three played in two national championship games in their time at Hutchinson.

Still, five players return from that team, four with major playing time on the championship team.

Sophomore guard J.J. Rhymes started in all 37 games last season. He was the team's third-leading scorer at 16.0 points per game. Rhymes shot 47.7 percent from the floor and hit 20 3-pointers. He also had 99 assists and 23 steals.

Guard Devonte Bandoo and forwards Kai Mitchell and Sal Nuhu were all huge contributors off the bench last season.

Bandoo averaged 13.2 points and 4.2 rebounds per game shooting 53.0 percent from the field with 34 3-pointers. Mitchell averaged 8.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game while shooting 57.1 percent from the field. Nuhu averaged 4.6 points and 3.9 rebounds. Guard Tiylar Cotton is the fifth returning sophomore.

Freshman guards for 2017-18 are Curtis Hollis (Arlington, Texas), transfer Robert Whitfield (Raleigh, NC), Jordan Myers (Fort Worth, TX) and Tanner Lackey (Buhler). Rheaquone Taylor (Jamaica, NY), Josh Creach (Beaver Falls, PA) and James Rojas (Jamestown, NY) are the freshman forwards in camp.

The Blue Dragons will play four games of the first seven days of the season. On Friday, the Division I, No. 1 Blue Dragons will square off against Division III's preseason No. 1 North Lake College and on Saturday, the Dragons play host to NEO. Next Tuesday, Hutch will play its final non-conference game at the Tabor College JV in Hillsboro.

The Dragons will open with three-straight Jayhawk Conference games on the road at Seward County, Cloud County and Pratt before playing its first Jayhawk game at home on Nov. 21 against Coffeyville.

Beginning his ninth season at Hutchinson, Eck is No. 2 in all-time Blue Dragon coaching wins with a record of 231-46. He is 19 victories shy of moving past Charles Sesher for No. 1 on the Blue Dragon coaching wins list.