LITTLE ROCK — John Hutchcraft, who hitchhiked from east Arkansas to play basketball at the University of Central Arkansas, reached a star-studded destination Friday night when he was one of nine inductees into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame
"This is really cool," said Hutchcraft, the Guy-Perkins coach who is retiring after 42 years of basketball coaching, 11 state championships and nine runner-up finishes.
The ceremony at the Statehouse Convention Center was the cherry on top of a couple of months of a continuing feast of achievements. He was honored by both fans and rivals at Guy-Perkins during his last home game. His Thunderbirds won a second straight Class A basketball championship on his birthday with his grandson one of the stars. He received the Mogan Wootten Award at the McDonald's High School All-Star game in Chicago for lifetime achievement in coaching girls basketball.
Before many friends and family at a packed banquet hall and in front of more familiar sports legends in Arkansas on Friday night, Hutchcraft talked about the journey that began in St. Charles in Arkansas County as a son of bootleggers (a common side business in small Arkansas communities in the day) to a young person who would have dropped out of school except for basketball to someone who became respected by students and faculty alike as a coach and educator as furnished the tiny town of Guy with decades of glitter on the Arkansas map.
On the way to a record of 2,013-617 (the most by a basketball coach in Arkansas history as he coached both girls and boys), he coached his daughters and stepson and a dozen players who were sons or daughters of players he had previously coached.
His daughter, Ashley Nance, is a highly successful girls coach at Conway High.
"A lot of coaches don't want to coach their kids," he said. "I really liked it. It's rewarding to see them go out and make a difference."
"He could coach anything and be successful," said Ashley in a video presentation. "When he told me to do something, I took his advice. He was the ultimate coach, but he was also the ultimate dad."
Nance admired his father's ability to push the envelope.
Both his boys and girls teams played at a fullcourt, pressing, past pace, revolutionary for the era in which he began coaching.
"I don't know X's and O's stuff," he once said. "We I think my strength is how I handle kids. They want to win for me."
He is still the UCA career leader in three rebound categories.
"I have long arms," he said as MC Chuck Barrett interviewed him during the presentation. Then, with a joking nod to a former UCA teammate. "When people like Rush Harding shot, I knew there were gonna be a lot of rebounds."
At age 65, Hutchcraft will leave soon for Japan to help Team USA 60s defend their world title in international masters 3-on-3 basketball.
"It's exciting to play other countries," said Hutchcraft, who was a member of the team that won the title in Italy last year. "I remember a Russian guy who got real mad at me last year and said something but I didn't know what he was saying."
Hutchcraft has always had a adventurous spirit and eager for a challenge.
One year, at Guy-Perkins, he saw a television documentary on a New York detective who coached the Christ The King girls team, which was the No. 1 team in the nation.
Hutchcraft called the coach, scheduled a game. His team raised the money and went to New York for the game.
When they returned, Bob Broach, his friend and his former coach, asked how the team did.
"We won," Hutchcraft said.
Broach looked it up and saw Guy-Perkins lost by double digits.
When questioned, Hutchcraft said, "We went to New York City. We met some wonderful people. We went sightseeing at some great places. We stayed a a great place. Everybody was so nice to us. That's the way we won."
That' was prototype John Hutchcraft — recognizing victory on both the immediate picture and the bigger picture.