By JACOB POLACHECK
Sean McAloon was at Peach Jam watching his star center Gus Yalden and attentively scouting prospects to build a national championship contender for his IMG Academy team out of Bradenton, Florida, when all of the sudden he struck up a conversation with a man by the name of Junior Hutchinson.
McAloon and Hutchinson go back and forth about IMG’s incoming roster, with Junior asking about the backcourt McAloon is forming alongside five-star guard Jaden Bradley.
“It’s kind of a hard thing,” McAloon said. “A lot of guys don’t want to compete like that. A lot of guys talk about competing until it comes down to compete. We don’t really have anybody right now, but we can figure it out with what we have.”
In an instant, Junior’s eyes light up.
“Listen, my name is Junior Hutchison, why don’t you watch my son play?”
Junior’s son, Jacoi Hutchinson, playing under coach Keith Stevens with Team Takeover, immediately shows his competitive fire with an aura of toughness rarely seen in players still yet to begin their junior year.
It wasn’t long before Jacoi, a 6-foot-2, defensive-minded point guard out of the Baltimore DMV area, announced his intentions to join McAloon at IMG Academy for his junior season, dead-set on becoming the leader he’s destined to be.
Ranked nationally as a Top-50 prospect in the class of 2023, Hutchinson is considered by many to be one of the top guard prospects in the nation, but Junior can still fondly remember the early days of his son’s basketball journey with Jacoi running across the court and firing up jump shots before even learning how to dribble.
Jacoi refers to himself as an ‘island boy’ with his father’s side of the family hailing from Jamaica and his mother’s family coming from St. Croix. He recalls taking constant trips back and forth, living that island life and spending time with aunts, uncles, cousins and all kinds of relatives.
And when it comes to basketball, Junior has always been hard on his son. He’ll willfully admit that. Some may say he’s gone overboard at times, but anyone close to the family knows he’s done it all in his son’s best interest.
There were times in middle school when Junior would make Jacoi sit in a defensive stance until his son broke down in tears.
“It was hard for me, but I don’t put my hands on my kids,” Junior said. “This is my punishment to you. And guess what? He knows how to slide them puppies. He plays so much defense, it’s crazy.”
And while Junior will often tear down his son for lack of effort and laziness, he’ll always come back and lift him up with the clear recognition of Jacoi’s immense potential.
That immense potential was first put on display in the fifth grade when Jacoi joined the D.C. Warriors club basketball team. Yet Jacoi was constantly hampered by an inability to attack the left side of the court, forcing him into a complementary role. However, after some of the program’s best players left the team, Jacoi was forced into a primary ball-handler role.
“Once it clicked, he was the man,” Junior said.
From then on, Jacoi had a different fire in his eyes anytime he stepped on the court, outhustling other players with his lightning fast foot speed and starting to see a future for himself within the game of basketball.
“Jacoi is going to be big time,” Junior said. “He’s going to be big time for sure.”
With the work ethic and determination Junior has instilled in Jacoi, worries for his son extend far beyond the hardwood.
“I just worry about him being an African American male out here in these streets, to be honest with you man,” he said. “He’s not a kid that just goes left and does wrong things, but in general, just him being who he is, an up-and-coming superstar. Some people love him, some people don’t.”
Now, with his junior year on the horizon, Jacoi’s phone is constantly ringing with calls from college coaches clamoring for his commitment with George Washington, Maryland, LSU, Penn State, Virginia Tech and George Mason dialing him daily and Pittsburgh keeping in contact weekly. He broke down each school:
George Washington: “Just the idea that it’s in the city. It’s a city campus and it’s not closed off. I grew up in a city area, so I’m familiar with those kinds of places. That’s what I would say is the most home situation for me. That’s actually the only school I took a visit to, so it was definitely a different feeling. That was my first visit and everything and my first time being on an actual college campus.”
Maryland: “The coaches keep in contact with me, being consistent every day, coming in and surprising me when I’m working out. Just the vibe I was getting from the coaching staff was something different compared to a lot of other schools.”
LSU: “You can’t really compare LSU to another school. I know that’s a big party school, fun school. Louisiana is just a place that I can see myself at.”
Penn State: “I have a couple friends that committed there recently for football. Penn State has always been on my watchlist because a couple (Team) Takeover kids have been there and whenever that happens, I know it’s a good fit.”
Virginia Tech: “Virginia Tech is definitely a big option for me, especially with my old coach, coach (Mike) Jones getting the job up there. It’s not too far, not too close. That’s definitely a big option for me.”
George Mason: “Their coaching staff, especially coach (Duane) Simpkins, him being around, him being a DeMatha grad, watching me over the years, even in middle school and keeping in contact with me and my dad, that’s just something that’s going to be there forever.”
Pittsburgh: “Coach (Jeff) Capel is definitely inspiring, so that’s always going to catch my guy. Judah Mintz, that’s one of my closest friends. Seeing him go there and play the same position as me, combo guard, that’s definitely fitting for me. They reach out to me on a weekly basis for sure.”
And as he navigates the complicated world of recruiting, Jacoi stays focused on his main principles of family and self expression.
“It’s not always about me, but I definitely want somewhere that feels like home, especially if it’s far away,” he said. “I want a family environment where I can express myself and be who I am without having to hold anything back.”
Family has always been a clear priority for Jacoi, likening back to his early playing days and developing a great sense of respect and pride for his father.
“I see how hard he works and how he treats my mom and people around him,” he said.
And that pride goes both ways. With Junior taking him to school, workouts and games for the last decade, his emotions became impossible to hold back when he dropped Jacoi off at IMG earlier this month. Junior knows it will be difficult to be away from his son, but he also knows it’s the best thing for him.
“What am I most proud of? Wow. Just give me a second because as a dad, man, I’m just so emotional, I’m real emotional about him.”
Junior’s voice trembled, his breath staggered, as his eyes began to fill up with tears.
“I’m so proud of Jacoi,” he said. “When you asked me that question, that s*** made me cry. I’m super proud of this kid, man.”
Throughout his life, Jacoi has worked to acknowledge the support he’s received from his family, friends and coaches, with a strong support system keeping him locked in on the task at hand even during tough times when he’s questioned his future in the game altogether.
“I definitely had the right people in my corner to keep me going and I’m definitely proud that I overcame those thoughts and negative things to get to where I’m at right now,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to more in the future.”
Photo: Jay Spinks
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