By CONOR NICHOLL
Darrell Stutzman was an assistant coach at Hutchinson-Central Christian when Adam Clark played at HCC in high school.
Then Clark, now in his 13th year leading the Cougars, had Stutzman as an assistant coach nearly his entire coaching tenure. Clark coached Stutzman's three boys.
On Nov. 8, Stutzman, a 1976 Central Christian graduate and an assistant coach for more than 20 years, died of cancer. Stutzman was known for his faith, coaching and scouting, and his humorous personality.
"A great friend," Clark said.
Throughout the year, Central Christian kept an empty seat on the bench for Stutzman and wore an embroidered patch with "Stutz" on the jerseys.
"He was a great influence on a lot of the kids, that's for sure," Clark said. "It makes it a special year. He is on our minds. We know where he is at now."
Today, No. 7 seeded Central Christian (16-7) plays No. 2 seed Wallace County (21-2) in the first round of the Class 1A Division II state tournament at Gross Memorial Coliseum.
Start time is 6:30 p.m. Last season, Central Christian, in its first state boys' tournament, lost in the first round to eventual state champion Axtell.
"We definitely want to play hard, and we want to represent him from the team," Clark said. "The family has been so good to us with the three boys all going to school here and playing for us. We have always been close with the family. They have been close with the basketball team. It's something we wanted to remember him by through the year."
The Cougars have an experienced team with five seniors, including point guard Zac Krehbiel, a four-year starter, and junior Ben Krehbiel, the team's leading scorer at 15 points per contest. HCC started 1-3, but is 15-4 since.
"He is a great point guard for us," coach Clark said. "He understands what we want, and he just runs it, and he gets everybody into the positions that they need to be, and gets to execute our offense, and is patient when we need to be and pushes the ball hard. He is one of the fastest guys in the state, so he can get down the court in a hurry."
As well, HCC features seniors Cody Moore, Marc Vilahur, Matthew Rich and Trey Heneha, plus 6-foot-7 junior forward Noah Starkey. Starkey is still raw, but poses matchup problems for virtually any team. Starkey's brother, 6-10 Jared, graduated last season and is now playing for NCAA Division II Southern Nazarene (Okla.) University.
Last week, Starkey had some jitters against a struggling Chase team in the sub-state semifinals and didn't score in the first half. At intermission, Clark told Starkey to "quit messing around." Starkey played much better in the second half and finished with 14 points.
"When he is more aggressive, it helps us," Clark said.