No border rivalry here: A Kansas native fuels a Missouri team's national title hopes
During a college basketball season fueled by a renewed rivalry between the Kansas Jayhawks and the Missouri Tigers, it’s a border-crossing phenom who is helping another school build a winning dynasty.
Since signing with Northwest Missouri State University four years ago and sitting out his freshman season as a redshirt, 6-foot junior guard Trevor Hudgins — a native of Manhattan, Kansas — has provided plenty of thrills to the often packed 2,500-seat Bearcat Arena in Maryville, Missouri.
The team’s all-time scoring leader, Hudgins has earned Player of the Year honors in the MIAA for three straight seasons and was recognized last season as the NCAA Division II national player of the year.
Head coach Ben McCollum, a former Bearcat player who's now is in his 13th season at Northwest Missouri State, is originally from Iowa but has been around long enough to know the historical animosity between Missouri and Kansas.
“It’s very lop-sided though, because Kansas has beaten Missouri so often when they play,” said McCollum, who lived in Emporia, Kansas, from 2005-’09 as an assistant coach at Emporia State University.
Now, McCollum’s Missouri-side team is pinning its hopes for a third straight NCAA Division II national championship on the Kansas-grown Hudgins.
“It’s win or go home now,” Hudgins said after the Bearcats’ 84-76 win on March 6 over the Topeka-based Washburn Ichabods. That victory in the MIAA tournament earned the Bearcats an automatic berth to the NCAA Division II tournament.
“This is all fun and games and it’s fun to win,” Hudgins said. “But now it’s the real NCAA tournament. We’ve got to focus on that.”
While launching his team to the conference title during that game at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium, Hudgins scored 35 points — 27 of them in the second half — and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
“It was really fun, really competitive. Shots were falling in this game,” said Hudgins. “It felt pretty good, but happy we got the win.”
The son of a pastor at Agape Family Church in Manhattan, Hudgins committed to the Bearcats a year before Ichabods coach Brett Ballard had a chance to recruit him.
But Ichabods guard Tyler Geiman, a senior from Blue Valley High School, had long been aware of Hudgins’ abilities — even before they squared off several times during their collegiate careers.
“We’ve actually known each other since about second or third grade,” Geiman said. “Good kid, good family. He’s always been about the right things, so I respect him. We battle and compete every day.”
Hudgins could’ve gone elsewhere this season. His two-time national championship teammate, Ryan Hawkins, moved on and played this season at Creighton. But Hudgins chose to stay.
“I had plans on coming back regardless of COVID or anything else. This is my last year,” said Hudgins, who’s listed as a junior because of the extra year granted due to COVID.
The Show Me State’s Bearcats are hoping to reap more Sunflower State benefits with another stellar performance from Hudgins on Saturday in Sioux Falls, S.D., when the eight-team Central Region matchups begin. Each region's winners advance to the Elite Eight in Evansville, Indiana, which is D-II’s version of The Final Four.
If Northwest Missouri State win its third straight NCAA D-II national title (there was no tournament in 2020 because of the pandemic) it would also be their fourth in the last six years.
But the road to this point has been rocky by Bearcats standards. As opposed to last year’s team that won the national championship by an average of 26 points in its last three games, this year’s team (28-5 overall) shared the MIAA regular-season title with Central Oklahoma and entered the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed.
“This team’s story is a little bit different simply because things are a little bit more difficult,” said McCollum. “It just doesn’t come as easy.”
McCollum claims he lost a lot more hair this year, but with Hudgins in the back court there’s no place like home for a possible national championship trophy again in Maryville.
“We just got lucky that we identified him and somebody else didn’t,” McCollum said of Hudgins. “And he’s been special for us.”
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