~ Guy-Perkins coach helps Team USA 60s to gold medal in Italy

Guy-Perkins coach helps Team USA 60s to gold medal in Italy

Donna Lampkin Stephens/Contributing Writer Published August 13, 2017 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Guy-Perkins basketball coach John Hutchcraft stands in his office in the school gymnasium. He wears the gold medal he won while playing for Team USA 60s in the 14th Federation of International Masters Basketball Association World Maxibasketball Championship in Montecatini-Tuscany, Italy.

It’s a long way from St. Charles, Arkansas, to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but basketball has taken John Hutchcraft every step of the way.

Hutchcraft, 64, the basketball coach at Guy-Perkins for the past 41 years, recently capped off his 10th state championship with the Thunderbirds by helping Team USA 60s to the gold medal by playing in the 14th Federation of International Masters Basketball Association World Maxibasketball Championship in Montecatini-Tuscany, Italy.

The tournament included 367 men’s and women’s teams playing in divisions from 35-and-over to 75-and-over. Team USA entered seven teams. The 60s players were recruited from masters tournaments across the U.S.

“The international competition was as good as we’ve seen,” Hutchcraft said. “Like with the USA, it was the best out of each country. One thing that was exciting was all 367 teams were lined up by country with their flags, and we paraded probably two miles through the town of Montecatini to cheering locals on the way to the stadium where the opening-ceremony program took place.

“That was my first time in another country in something like that, but I thought the people from Italy and the other countries really liked the USA people. They were clapping and hollering really big for USA.”

Team USA beat Greece in the opening round, 102-42, after jumping to a 33-5 lead. In the second round, the Americans knocked off Puerto Rico “B,” 69-31, including a 26-4 run. In the quarterfinals, Team USA handled Russia, 70-46, before knocking off Puerto Rico “A” in the semifinals, 73-52; and Italy for gold, 80-53.

The 6-foot-8 Hutchcraft said the most interesting games to him were against Russia and Italy, the host team.

He impressed USA coach Roger Larson.

“John Hutchcraft played a vital role in USA 60s’ overall success,” Larson said. “John stood toe to toe with Russia’s best and came out on top in the huge quarterfinal win. His all-around play in the championship game was crucial. For the tournament, John led the team in rebounds and blocked shots. John plays to win, and his efforts are appreciated by his teammates, fans and the coaching staff.”

All 11 of the Team USA 60s played college basketball. A few played professionally.

“By what I’ve seen in the past 15 years of playing senior ball, we did have the best 11 players in the USA,” Hutchcraft said.

Although Hutchcraft, a 1976 graduate of what was then Arkansas State Teachers College (now the University of Central Arkansas), has played basketball practically his whole life, 2017 marked his first time to play — or travel — abroad.

“We were able to see a lot of sights because the games were scheduled for every other day,” he said. “We took advantage of the beautiful scenery, food and history of Tuscany. Cathedrals and churches, history, castles and fortresses — all of that was really interesting and exciting.”

Excursions included train trips to the walled town of Lucca and then Pisa on a “wonderful day of sightseeing,” Hutchcraft said. Another train trip to Florence included “a full day of sightseeing in one of the most historic and beautiful places to visit in Italy.” Team USA also took a team bus tour to Montepulciano, an ancient medieval hilltop town in southern Tuscany.

“Then on to a delicious luncheon at a family-owned winery, followed by a visit to Siena for a great afternoon of sightseeing and gelato desert,” he said.

The most interesting sight of the trip for him was the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

“I wanted to go up in it, but the lines were too long to wait,” he said.

Italy won’t be his last overseas trip. Hutchcraft said he is already looking forward to helping Team USA defend that gold next year at the World Games in Japan.“With God’s blessings, hopefully, my health will continue as it is now, and I will be able to play even more basketball after retirement next year,” he said.

• • •

Hutchcraft grew up in tiny St. Charles, a southeast-Arkansas town on the White River in Arkansas County, and hitchhiked to Conway to take advantage of a basketball scholarship to what was then ASTC.

Several years ago, he told the Arkansas Sports Club in Conway that his senior-year report card in high school included three F’s and two D-minuses.

“I decided I wanted to change my life and get serious with my grades,” he said. “I wanted to play college basketball.”

More than 40 years later, he still holds three UCA career records:

• Rebounds, 1,162.

• Defensive rebounds, 962.

• Defensive rebound average, 8.8.

He also remains among the career leaders in 10 more

categories:

• Second in rebound average, 10.7.

• Second in free throws attempted, 651.

• Third in scoring, 1,782.

• Third in field goals made, 679.

• Third in field goals attempted, 1,280.

• Third in free throws made, 424.

• Sixth in offensive rebounds, 200.

• Ninth in games played, 109.

• 18th in field-goal percentage, .530.

He was inducted into the UCA Sports Hall of Fame in 2006.

After earning his degree, Hutchcraft coached one year at Hazen and one at Grubbs before finding his place at Guy-Perkins, one of the smallest schools in the state.

The numbers since then are staggering. For about 25 years, he coached all four Thunderbird teams — junior and senior high boys and girls. For the past several years, he has focused on the two senior high squads.

Girls state championships came in 1984, 2001, ’02, ’03 and ’05; boys titles came in 1997, 2005, ’06, ’09 and ’17. The 1984 Lady T-Birds won the High School Overall title over Blytheville.

Hutchcraft teams have also finished as state runner-up nine times. He has a 10-9 all-time mark in state-title games.

Assisted by his daughter, Conway coach Ashley Hutchcraft Nance, and another Guy-Perkins alumnus, Victor

Rimmer, girls coach at Fayetteville, Hutchcraft led the East girls to an 89-87 win over the West in the 2015 McDonald’s All American Games, the nation’s top high school all-star basketball event, in Chicago. The game was televised on ESPNU.

Hutchcraft has said the coming season will be his last at Guy-Perkins. He should surpass the 2,000-win milestone before he retires. Having coached all three of his children, he plans to leave when his grandson Wyatt Spires graduates.

Indeed, family has been a recurring theme throughout Hutchcraft’s life.

Nance, his younger daughter, said Hutchcraft brought his mother, Betty Hutchcraft, to live with his family in Faulkner County before Nance was born.

“She lived with us until I was 18, and she and I shared a room until she passed away,” Nance said.

Betty Hutchcraft was thus able to see her son coach his three children. Daughter Charlotte Hutchcraft Sober played on three state runner-up teams. Son Jason McGinty hit the winning basket for the 1997 title. Nance was named MVP on the championship teams of 2001, ’02 and ’03.

Looking back, Hutchcraft, prone to the occasional sentimental moment, said he wouldn’t have traded those experiences for anything.

“I’ve been blessed so much,” he said. “I’ve had three kids; I went to school with each one of them for five years. They all played basketball for me in a small-school atmosphere.

“It couldn’t have been any better.”

In fact, Sober returned to Arkansas from Georgia a few years ago so her son, Spires, could play for his grandfather. Spires was a junior post last season on the latest T-Bird championship squad, which finished 37-4.

“Now that I’m older and look back, Dad has had just a tremendous effect on our community,” said Sober, 39. “Guy-Perkins was put on the map under John Hutchcraft. Dad did the best with what he had every year.

“We didn’t get the pick of the litter like Conway or the Little Rock schools, but I just remember having a bond with those girls. At Guy, you know everybody. There are no cliques; everybody was everybody. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to bring Wyatt back. I wanted him to have what I had.”

During Sober’s Guy-Perkins career, Hutchcraft took the

Lady T-Birds to New York City, where they faced off against Christ the King, then the No. 1

high school girls team in the country. The Guy-Perkins team raised $13,000 to make the trip, and the party got to visit the Empire State Building, despite its being closed, because one of the visitors convinced officials that President Bill Clinton would call and OK it.

McGinty, 38, played for his dad from when McGinty was in junior high school.

“Both of us experienced one of the greatest games in school history,” he said. “I made the last-second shot in overtime to beat Saratoga to win his first boys state championship. I was the only son in our family, and he was not only Coach. He also taught me and a lot of guys how to be a man.”

Another story for the ages happened when Nance was in the fifth grade. Guy-Perkins was in the final of the state tournament at Barton Coliseum in Little Rock, leading by about 10 points with three minutes to go.

“Ashley was sitting on the bench with me, and she knocked the cooler full of water over, and it went all out on the floor, and they had to stop the game and get the mop,” Hutchcraft

remembered. “She took off running for the dressing room. The other team came back, and we got beat, and I always teased her about that.

“After she won that third state tournament (in 2003), she told me, ‘We’re even now. I cost you one, but now I’ve won you three.’”

Nance, 32, is following in her father’s footsteps, having led both Conway and Conway Christian to state titles in just nine seasons as a head coach.

“Dad has played a huge role in the coach I am today,” she said. “I not only played for him in high school; he was also my [Amateur Athletic Union] coach. My first job out of college was assisting him. We were able to experience coaching in the McDonald’s All-American game together at the United Center in Chicago.

“I sometimes pause after I say something to my team and think to myself, ‘Wow, that sounded just like Dad.’ I’ve been watching every move he’s made for as long as I can remember.

“When people speak of Guy-Perkins, typically the next word you hear is ‘Hutchcraft.’ John Hutchcraft is and will always be the face of Guy-Perkins basketball.”

In that appearance at the Arkansas Sports Club, Hutchcraft was asked about his coaching philosophy.

“I don’t know all that X’s and O’s stuff,” he said then. “We have about two plays — shoot it and go rebound. But I think my strength is the way I handle kids. They want to win for me.”

He explained how he had always tried to “make things happy” in the gym, with Cokes when the T-Birds do well, frequent scrimmages and occasional music during practice.

“I like to look out the window and see kids in a hurry to get there for practice,” he said. “Everywhere we go, we stop and eat.”

Players often tell him, “I can’t wait until Friday to go play ball.”

“You can win like that,” Hutchcraft said.

• • •

Since turning 50, Hutchcraft has played 3-on-3 Senior Olympic and National Senior Basketball with the Arkansas Travelers, who have won multiple gold medals, national titles and World Game Championships. The Travelers include several of his former UCA teammates.

“It’s really fun to play with the boys you played college ball with,” Hutchcraft said. “When we travel, we also turn it into a vacation, seeing the country.”

But at a tournament in Little Rock last spring, the Travs’ captain, Donnie Smith, a retired coach and principal at Harrison, suffered a heart attack during a game. He died a few weeks later.

“That was a very traumatic event and hit us all hard,” Hutchcraft said. “It was especially hard for me because Donnie and I have been teammates since 1972. But he died doing something he loved. That is somewhat of a comfort to me.”

Hutchcraft said Smith had appeared to be in the best shape of any of the Travelers, so the experience was a

wake-up call.

“That just makes me think I’d better start doing some other things,” Hutchcraft said. “I like coaching, but I’d better start doing more things.

Life’s short.”

Without Smith, the Travelers took silver in the 60-and-over national tournament in Birmingham, Alabama, in June after having won the last four 3-on-3 national championships and three world tournaments in Utah.

Now that his summer play is over, Hutchcraft has turned his attention to his final year at Guy-Perkins.

“My focus will be on coaching the senior girls and senior boys Thunderbird teams,” he said. “My boys team definitely has another shot at the state championship. Hopefully, we can pull out one more before I hang it up for good.”

Then again, maybe his coaching days won’t be over after he retires.

He said he and his teammates were surprised that there were no women’s teams in the USA contingent in Italy.

“A lot of men on my team were very interested in trying to figure out how we could come up with a USA women’s team,” Hutchcraft said. “Since the age groups start at 35, you’d think with all the big-time Division 1 schools, somebody would put one together. They said, ‘Why don’t you put one together?’”

After 42 years at Guy-

Perkins, there would probably be an old Lady Thunderbird or two he could recruit.

For Coach Hutchcraft, they’d probably come running.

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