By CONOR NICHOLL
Alex Hutchins graduated from Scott City in 2010 and starred in multiple sports, including football and basketball where he played for Glenn O’Neil. He served as O’Neil’s student aide as a senior. Hutchins has long been close to the O’Neil family, including the three children: Allie, Brett and Trey.
After college, Hutchins immediately earned a head boys’ basketball coaching position at Minneapolis. Hutchins coached one winter with the Lions. During that year, Alex severely missed his brothers, Marshal and Dylan.
From ’06-15, Scott City won five basketball titles and was second twice. The Beavers collected one football crown and a state runner-up showing, too. O’Neil served as head coach for all those teams.
Alex, Marshal and Dylan were key players in Scott City’s elite success.
“I missed a lot of games, and that drove me crazy,” Hutchins said. “They spent their whole childhood going to my games."
Alex decided to return to Scott City. He went from head Minneapolis varsity coach to a freshman coach. He was present for Dylan’s games – but needed a way to “simulate his coaching senses,” and continue to grow as a coach.
Alex reached out to some friends from Kansas State who had served as general assistants and managers with the Wildcats. Some had done camps at Ohio State and Duke. Hutchins asked if it was a worthwhile experience. The friends said “for sure.”
Hutchins contacted basically every major program in the country to work summer camps. He heard back from “pretty much all of them.”
Hutchins elected to drive to North Carolina and Syracuse with legendary coaches Roy Williams and Jim Boeheim.
Glenn O’Neil, who has coached basketball for more than three decades, said Hutchins is his only former player who has done this.
“Experience a basketball culture that is unlike any others,” Glenn said.
Hutchins’ trek to the east coast eventually helped set the foundation for Hays High boys’ basketball’s 30-game winning streak that ended in the Class 5A state quarterfinals this winter.
The effervescent Hutchins, who just finished his second year with the program, led HHS to the school’s longest winning streak in at least 70 years.
For most of the winter, the Indians had the longest winning streak in Kansas boys’ basketball.
Trey served as Alex’s lead assistant at Hays High, and Dylan was an HHS freshman coach.
Five years ago, Glenn took over as Topeka Seaman’s head football coach. Two winters ago, Glenn also became the assistant boys’ basketball coach at nearby Hoyt-Royal Valley, a program with limited basketball tradition.
This year, RV reached the state basketball tournament for the first time. Hays High finished 22-1 and was ranked No. 1 in 5A much of the year.
This spring, both O’Neils took new jobs. Glenn became Dodge City’s football coach. Trey, considered one of the top young assistants in Kansas, accepted Hugoton’s head boys’ basketball coach. Hugoton finished 21-3 this winter. The changes from the O’Neils have been among the top coaching headlines this spring.
“For Trey, for a long time, he was probably going to be a coach,” Glenn said. “For Alex, (an) exceptional mind. He won a lot of academic awards and scholarships coming out of high school. I think he could have chosen to go different routes and been successful also … once you kind of get into that coaching and you find your joy and the relations that you build throughout high school coaching, I think it stays with you.”
Alex and Trey, who both served as assistants to Tony Crough in football and track, helped Hays High boys’ sports enjoy arguably the best single school sports season in Indian history in the 2020-21 school year. HHS football went 5-3 and hosted the fourth-ever playoff game in school annals.
In late May, Indian baseball finished third in 5A, its best finish in 21 years. Hays High track was fourth in 5A and won a regional crown. The Indians earned conference titles in football, boys’ basketball and track. Boys’ golf qualified for state for a 12th straight year.
Hays High has its well-known quartet of Gaven Haselhorst, Gavin Meyers, Jaren Kanak and Dylan Dreiling, all Power 5 recruits. Haselhorst, who just graduated, is headed to Kansas State football. The other three finished junior years. Meyers has offers from Nebraska football, among others.
Kanak is a national football recruit with an offer list that includes Alabama, Florida and Michigan, all earned in late spring. He is one of the top-10 fastest in the 100-meter dash in Kansas history. In June, Dreiling earned Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year and is on the short list for SIK 5A Baseball Player of the Year that will be released this weekend. He has committed to Tennessee baseball, which qualified for the College World Series on Sunday.
HHS standout basketball players Carson Kieffer and Jace Linenberger just finished junior years. Kieffer delivered 6.5 assists, while Linenberger was at 16.2 points and 7.5 rebounds a game en route to second team (top-10) all-state 5A honors. Jordan Dale, also a senior this year, enjoyed an exceptional junior season in football, basketball and track.
Dale was the WAC Offensive Player of the Year in football when he accounted for 10 offensive touchdowns, served as a key basketball reserve and collected the 5A high jump state runner-up in May. This past weekend, Hays High’s Class of 2022 boys’ basketball team finished in second place in a 68-team summer tournament. Kieffer notably played well.
Trey was a former 3A Player of the Year at Scott City and started multiple seasons at Fort Hays basketball. He was beloved at Hays High, especially with the Class of 2022. Trey coached wide receivers, including Kanak. In basketball, he helped mold Kieffer into one of the state’s best point guards and played a key role in Dale’s development, among others.
“I think it’s the best coaching staff in the state,” Linenberger said. “They just do an overall amazing job.”
“It’s a pleasure playing under Hutchins and O’Neil and the rest of the coaching staff,” Jason Krannawitter, the starting point guard as a senior last winter, said.
As of June 13, Trey’s main two pictures on his Twitter involved Hays High basketball – one with himself and Hutchins coaching on the bench. The other showed him and Dale with a championship plaque.
“He’s worked really hard, and I think he’s grown up and matured and settled in a little bit, and honestly I think coach Trey O’Neil is a big part of it,” Hutchins said of Kieffer. “Those two have a really strong relationship.”
Roy Williams coached 33 years and won 903 games combined with University of Kansas and North Carolina. Williams, known for his outgoing personality, won three national titles with UNC, in ’05, ’09 and ’17. In the era of transfers, UNC was known for having few players leave. Williams retired April 1.
The laconic Boeheim has won 980-plus games with the Orange and has served as Syracuse’s head coach since 1976. Hutchins learned from both places, especially the family atmosphere cultivated at North Carolina. Hutchins called both trips “really valuable.” He finished the camps, and then drove straight to Wichita for Allie O’Neil’s, Glenn’s oldest daughter, wedding.
“I just learned that good basketball is good basketball,” Hutchins said. “It doesn’t really matter what level you are at. The players and the relationships that you have to build and the Xs and Os, it’s all pretty similar and more than anything, I think I learned how important the way you lead is, and how everything kind of trickles down from the top.”
Williams was highly visible at the camps and stopped by each gym daily. Kennedy Meeks, North Carolina’s star forward when Hutchins went to UNC, was loquacious with the kids.
Notably, Hutchins saw how Williams treats everyone “like they are valuable.” Hutchins has looked to create the same bond at Hays High. HHS breaks each huddle with a “Family” shout.
Like North Carolina, Hutchins wants alumni to be a part of the program after they leave. Hutchins, who teaches adaptive P.E. for several blocks each school day, has also taken time to recognize others, including Dodge City’s student manager after a Feb. 5 game this winter.
“From the top all the way to the bottom and you see that in his players, you see that in his staff,” Hutchins said of North Carolina. “You see that in the managers and everyone involved in that program and so that was something that really stood out to me. …. Something that I really hope that we’re creating and something that we are trying to kind of model.”
The North Carolina camp features thousands of kids who stay at the UNC residence halls. The older ones play at the famed Dean E. Smith Center and Carmichael Arena. The younger campers are spaced out among area schools. Hutchins spent time with middle school and lower-level high school kids.
All the coaches, regardless of experience, led a skill or aspect of the game. Hutchins worked next to a head coach of a NCAA Division II program. Hutchins was humbled and watched the older coaches’ attention to detail and enthusiasm.
“Really they trust you,” Hutchins said. “And they think that they bring in coaches that are good enough that they don’t have to micromanage and tell you what drills to run or anything like that. You kind of get to do what you want, so that was unique too, being as young as I was.”
Hutchins was especially impressed with Carolina alumni. Every night, the Tar Heels held an alumni versus current players’ scrimmage.
“Watching that was powerful,” Hutchins said. “Seeing the way they compete with each other and how the older guys do a really good job of kind of exposing and embarrassing the current players and kind of taking it to them. And then putting an arm around their shoulder and teaching them as they are walking back down the court, you see why there aren’t those transfers and why there are those people that feel like they are a part of the program even though they are decades removed from their time playing.”
Alex served two years with Scott City. After Dylan finished his playing career, Alex went to Colorado for one season as a head coach. Then, he took over as Hays High’s girls’ basketball coach and went 14-8 in his only season. Hutchins moved to the boys’ side and is 17-6 and 22-1 in two years.
“The biggest thing with (Hutchins) is he really is relatable and connects with the players, and has a good time with us,” Dalyn Schwarz, a senior this season and the WAC Player of the Year in basketball, said. “I mean, he’s great basketball-wise, too, but I think the biggest thing is just being able to sit down at a meal and joke around and have a good time with him.”
Hays High lost 60-56 at rival Great Bend on Feb. 11, 2020. At that point, HHS was 18-19 in its last 37 games. Then, the Indians won eight in a row, including a 46-43 comeback state quarterfinal win against Topeka Highland Park. Then, HHS became a Class 5A Forever Four team when coronavirus shut down the remainder of the season.
Glenn O’Neil learned his high-low offense when current KU coach Bill Self was at Oral Roberts, Tulsa and Illinois from ’93-03. Hutchins said O’Neil’s offense is “kind of the foundation” for Hays High. The game has gravitated more toward 3-pointers in the last several years, though the Indians have taken a different tactic.
Two seasons ago, the Indians shot 30 percent on treys and took 31.3 percent of its shots from 3-point range.
This winter, HHS’ shot 36 percent on treys, though took just 31.8 percent of its shots from beyond the arc.
That was a lower percentage than multiple upper tier 5A schools, such as Salina South (33.4), Maize (34.5 percent), Topeka West (36 percent), Bishop Carroll (39 percent), Andover (42 percent). As well, Hugoton, where Trey took over, had 40 percent of its shots as 3s last winter. Plus, Hays High’s defensive principles has posed problems.
“Their defense, the way they play their defense is tough for a lot of teams to read,” Great Bend coach Tim Brooks said. “I think that they do a lot of switching and their kids are really smart with how they play defense. I also think that they have got such balance on offense. … Their bigs defensively can nullify about what any team wants to do on the inside, because of how tough they are.”
This winter, HHS finished 20-0 in the regular season, including a stretch of Jan. 29 to Feb. 5 with three double-digit comeback wins: 47-46 versus Salina Central, 57-35 at Scott City and the 44-38 win against Dodge City.
HHS trailed Salina Central by 19 at halftime before it won on a last-second shot from Kieffer. Glenn said he’s only seen two comebacks like Hays High’s.
Like Glenn, Alex and Trey are both known for their calmness. Krannawitter said the Indians’ mantra was to “always stay calm, stay cool and that will help your performance.”
“The big deal is composure,” Glenn said. “Not panicking when you get down in a situation and believing in the system … It’s something that the coaching staff has to make the players believe in, and Alex and Trey and the rest of the staff has done a great job with that.”
After the Dodge City win on Feb. 5, Hutchins was in the hallway by the locker rooms when DC’s student team manager Kyle Holloway walked by in professional attire, including a tie. Hutchins gave Holloway a positive word. SIK confirmed the event with Dodge City.
“This is his first year serving as the manager. Kyle rarely misses a Dodge City High School sporting event,” DC Activities Director Shawn Steiner emailed to SIK a few days after the game. “What a great gesture by Coach Hutchins.”
Hutchins choked up when he discussed the moment.
“We have a lot of people that help our program in the shadows,” Hutchins said. “A lot of people that do a lot of stuff for us that don’t get recognition and don’t get their name in the paper or don’t get shouted out on the radio, and so anytime you see someone doing that for another program, you just want to make sure that they are getting recognition, too.
“And so we are probably not good enough recognizing the people that do that for us,” he added. “There’s probably a lot of people that I need to do a better job of giving credit to.”
On Feb. 5, Royal Valley played at Wathena-Riverside, which is located less than eight miles from St. Joseph, Mo. Glenn got home around 11:30 p.m. Trey had not been home since Christmas. After the Dodge City win, Trey immediately drove three hours to Topeka and pulled in around 12:30 a.m.
“Stayed up talking for a little while,” Glenn said.
On Saturday and part of Sunday, Glenn and Trey talked, including Xs and Os, strategy and general topics. Hays High had a stretch of three games where they didn’t play especially well but still won. Glenn referred to several ideas from when he coached Scott City to “kind of spice” the practices or increase motivation against a team with a losing record.
“That’s one thing that we did at Scott City that has rubbed off on Alex and Trey both is the pregame stuff as far as having a scouting report, having things on the back of our mind as far as what to do in certain situations,” Glenn said. “And Alex has definitely the coaching resume and career to kind of give him that confidence just to keep on doing what he is doing.”
Afterward, Hays High reeled off seven wins, all by double figures, including a 61-49 victory at Dodge City and a 61-48 home win versus Salina South in the sub-state title game. For the state quarterfinals, Schwarz rolled his ankle 71 seconds into the game. Hays High lost 52-49 to Topeka West.
Afterward, Hutchins and O’Neil were among the last to leave the court. Trey stood on the baseline, motionless. A few feet away, Hutchins was with his wife, Bridgette. Their young son crawled on the court near their feet.
Hays High came a victory away from tying the school single season wins record.
Christin Nunnery had four children excel with HHS athletics, including T.J., a multi-year starter and senior this winter. Christin came up to Hutchins and offered two words for the historic season, a year with roots from a North Carolina basketball camp.
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