Whenever Northwest Missouri State basketball star Trevor Hudgins stepped on the court at Washburn University, he was arguably the least popular man in Topeka that day. He’s been an Ichabod killer for four years.
But Hudgins could always spot a few friendly faces in the crowd at Lee Arena.
Friendly faces when Hudgins comes to Topeka
The Manhattan native had his parents and some supporters in the crowd every time the Bearcats visit Washburn.
And the Division II All-American played so many games against Topeka teams during high school, there are plenty of people around who remember him as a Manhattan Indian.
“It was always fun going to Washburn,” Hudgins said. “Ever since I was a redshirt, I would have family and friends come to watch our team play and to come see me.
“Being close to home, my mom would send out hundreds, if not thousands, of emails to tell people to come watch us in Topeka. So it felt like homecoming just a little bit because I had so many friends and family showing out.”
Hudgins’ illustrious career is nearing its close.
More: Checking in with Washburn University men’s basketball: ‘The road trip was tough’
Last season’s Div. II Player of the Year has two national championships on his resume, and might well have had a third were the tournament not wiped out by the pandemic. The Bearcats are an astounding 120-6 with Hudgins as their point guard.
Hudgins played his last game in Topeka in January. On Saturday, he will face the Ichabods for the last time in a regular season game when Washburn visits Maryville, Mo.
Though Hudgins is the enemy for 40 minutes when Washburn faces Northwest Missouri, there are a lot of long-term relationships and lots of respect between the opponents.
“Washburn is good. They’re really well-coached,” Hudgins said. “They’ve got phenomenal guards with Jalen Lewis and Tyler Geiman. Playing against them, against Tyler, it’s just fun to compete. He’s one of those players who you love to go against.”
Hudgins calls Ichabod guard Geiman a longtime friend. The two were listed on the Topeka Capital-Journal 6A all-state team as high school seniors in 2017.
“He does it with humility,” Hudgins said of Geiman. “He’s humble and respectful when he wins. Last year they beat us twice, and he tried to pick me up after I missed a game-winner against them last year. That’s just who he is. That’s my guy. I have a lot of respect for him.”
More: 5 Questions with ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla on Kansas basketball, Ochai Agbaji and more
Star credits Centennial League for development
Hudgins helped lead Manhattan High School to three Centennial League titles, winning league Player of the Year honors twice. He played dozens of games against Topeka high schools over the years.
“I feel like the Centennial League really helped my development,” Hudgins said. “There’s a lot of good players that come from the league, and I feel like the athleticism was pretty good in the league when I was there.
“Manhattan really helped me develop as a player. I would say that last year, going to state and seeing teams from Kansas City and Wichita, how they play and where our school (compared), that really helped.”
But as a 6-foot guard, he didn’t earn any offers from Div. I programs. He considered a variety of options, but because of a coaching change at Washburn, he never seriously considered playing for the Ichabods.
Washburn coach Brett Ballard was hired in April 2017, shortly after Hudgins committed to the Bearcats.
“I had quite a few MIAA options, especially on the Kansas side, and (some) interest from DI’s, but no offers,” Hudgins said. “But coaches got fired or retired or moved on at several of the schools I was considering. It came down to Pitt State and Northwest, and the coach at Pitt State left.
“At that point, (Coach Ben McCollum) was the only one I was talking to. After they won the national championship (in 2017), I called him up and said, ‘I’m on board.’”
‘Basketball players are going to find a way to be who they are’
Making the leap from Manhattan to one of the premier programs in Div. II, Hudgins redshirted. He said he wasn’t sure how good he could be, but he never doubted his dedication to improving.
“I thought I could work for it,” Hudgins said. “I didn’t know that the past five years would happen with national championships and all that stuff. Especially the 38-0 year (his freshman season). I didn’t envision that in my wildest dreams.
“But I was prepared to work for it. Prepared to get better, mature, get tougher mentally and all that. Because college is a big jump from high school, I had no clue that I could be where I am today. But I was prepared to work.”
More: Washburn women’s basketball turning things around: ‘We just had to put it together’
“He came in very underrecruited, and he came in with a chip on his shoulder to be able to prove that he could play at this level,” McCollum recalled about his point guard. “He’s grown a lot. Like a lot of the kids we get, they don’t realize how good they are. You just have to bring it out of them.”
“Trevor is a super humble kid. He never realized how good he really was. He’s slowly grown into having that edge and having the maturity to take over and win games in tough situations. He made his own path throughout and obviously created a great legacy.”
Recent changes in transfer rules have sparked considerable player movement, including numerous examples of players jumping from the Div. II level to Div. I.
Following the 2021 national championship, ESPN even contacted Hudgins to ask if he planned to transfer. Surprised by the question, the Player of the Year said he never considered leaving Northwest Missouri.
Hudgins said he doesn’t wonder what he could accomplish at a Div. I program.
“I saw (other guys) leave to go to DI,” Hudgins said. “But honestly, I thought: ‘I’m making a name for myself here. I’m getting better every year. Why not stay? I’m going to get opportunities playing for a coach like (McCollum). Why not stay?’
“I play in Kansas City in the summer with some DI guys and, honestly, I just think of them as basketball players. I don’t think ‘This guy’s DI so he’s better than me,’ or ‘This guy is DIII so I’m better than him.’ I don’t think about it like that. Basketball players are going to find a way to be who they are.”
The pandemic has offered athletes the opportunity to add an extra year to their college careers. But with four seasons as a Bearcat, plus a redshirt year, Hudgins said he has already decided to move on after this season, despite being listed on the roster as a junior.
“I wasn’t thinking about coming back,” Hudgins said. “I just wanted to get my degree (in corporate recreation). That’s the main thing. I’ll have some opportunities to play after this year. That’s what I’m shooting for. I’m probably going to sign with an agent after the season is over and look for the best spot for me, wherever that might be.”
So the Northwest Missouri guard has played his last game at Lee Arena and on Saturday may face the Ichabods for the final time. It’s safe to say the local product will be appreciated, but not missed, by Washburn fans.