Trevor Hudgins stood in the back court at The Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana, on March 30. His teammate on the Northwest Missouri State University basketball team, Ryan Hawkins, was shooting free throws in the closing seconds of the NCAA Division II national championship game against Point Loma.
Hawkins and teammate Diego Bernard looked at each other and couldn’t help but smile.
“We looked at our parents in the stands and were like, ‘Yeah, this is a championship game right here,’” Hudgins said.
Hudgins had the ball in his hands as the buzzer sounded after his team defeated Point Loma 64-58. He launched the ball into the rafters, trading it for the descending confetti that dropped to rest on the faces of his team.
“We started hugging each other,” Hudgins said. “It was probably one of the most memorable days I have in my life right now.”
Hudgins still is recovering from the high of winning a title in his second year at Northwest Missouri State, a season in which the team went 38-0. The former Manhattan High star — Hudgins led the Indians to three Centennial League titles and was named all-league twice along with a pair of league Player of the Year awards — redshirted his freshman year of college during the 2017-18 season, though.
He wasn’t happy with his play at the time, but he used that feeling as fuel.
“I felt like I didn’t live up to expectations,” Hudgins said. “I felt like I was, not lazy, but that I could have done a lot more during practice or guarded (senior point guard) Justin Pitts a bit better in practice.”
Hudgins spent the summer of 2018 conditioning himself to replace the graduated Pitts as the starting point guard. The basketball tradition at Northwest Missouri State is steadily climbing, with the program now owning two national titles, five Elite Eight appearances and 17 regular season Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA) titles.
Not living up to expectations wasn’t an option. Hudgins used the redshirt year to study how Pitts, a two-time MIAA player of the year and three-time first team All-MIAA selection, ran the team at point.
“I feel like it really gave me time to adjust to the college life and understand what I needed to do and how to do it,” Hudgins said. “It gave me a visual representation of what a point guard in college is supposed to do. Justin really showed me the way of how to control a team and keep everyone together. I just tried to attack the second year and go as hard as I can to prove to the whole league and everyone at Northwest that I deserve to be here.”
His hard work paid off, as Hudgins dominated his debut season by averaging 18.7 points, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals a game. Hudgins was named the Most Outstanding Player at the Elite Eight, MIAA Freshman of the year and earned first-team All-MIAA honors.
One of the focal points of Hudgins’ offseason was to improve his shooting. He posted efficient numbers across the board, shooting 46% from 3, 83% from the free throw line and 53% overall from the field.
“I think I developed a lot of my shooting this past year,” Hudgins said. “I really worked on it. I was a decent shooter before, but just watching film and talking to coach, I realized that I could shoot a lot more, so I just got in the gym and worked as hard as I could to get the shot down.”
Hudgins said the team knew it could be special going into the regional tournament. The team was together and playing their respective roles as well as they had all year. It all came together again in the national title game against Point Loma.
Ryan Hawkins hit a buzzer-beater at the end of the first half while Joey Witthus hit a deep 3 in crunch time. Hudgins contributed his 12 points and six assists, but he mentioned hardly anything beyond his team’s effort and poise.
“I wouldn’t trade that day for the world,” Hudgins said. “But we are going to try and do it again here soon.”