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Long, successful basketball road for Conant's Hudson
 

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Long, successful basketball road for Conant's Hudson
  • Hard work and perseverance served Conant's Robert Hudson well in his drive to play basketball collegiately.

    Purchase Photo | Hard work and perseverance served Conant's Robert Hudson well in his drive to play basketball collegiately. JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

Mapquest's directions put the trip from Conant High School to Ferris State University at 4 1-2 hours and nearly 270 miles.

That would be a quick cruise to Big Rapids, Mich., for Robert Hudson considering all the time and effort that went into his obstacle-filled route of playing basketball in college.

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Detours included getting cut from his junior high team in seventh grade and an injury-plagued junior season. Not playing on the travel or AAU circuits was today's unconventional basketball equivalent of traveling two-lane back roads instead of interstate highways.

"It all comes down to putting in the hard work and how much you love the game," Hudson said by phone this week of earning a scholarship to the Division II school about 55 miles north of Grand Rapids.

Which paid off for the 6-foot-6 Hudson, who averaged 15 points a game and was one of the Mid-Suburban League's top 3-point shooters as a senior, when he was spotted by Ferris State coaches at last December's Jack Tosh Holiday Classic at York.

"He's really gotten better and better at his game year after year by going to Meineke (Recreation Center in Schaumburg)," Conant coach Tom McCormack said of Hudson's rise from primarily a "B" team player as a freshman to Daily Herald all-area honors last season. "This kid is a real success story."

Hudson started playing organized basketball with a fourth-grade YMCA team. Even though size isn't directly in his genes -- his dad is 5-11 and his mom is 5-4 -- his mom's brothers played basketball in Iron Mountain, Mich., with current Michigan State coach Tom Izzo and former NFL coach Steve Mariucci.

But Hudson was only 5-6 and an unknown commodity when he didn't make his seventh grade team at Robert Frost Junior High in Schaumburg.

"I thought I should have made it ... but they picked all the kids they knew or had a little bit of height," Hudson said. "It was a great motivational point for me playing basketball, to keep working on my game and to keep getting better.

"I wanted to prove that coach was wrong. It's not like my skills weren't there to play. Nobody knew me because I didn't play on travel and feeder teams."

Hudson made gains physically to 6 feet and in ability by going to a Detroit Pistons summer camp and made his eighth-grade team. He then showed his varied offensive skills from the low post to behind the 3-point line during his freshman season.

He took advantage of an opportunity to earn a starting spot on the sophomore team and then started as a junior before his season was cut short by a concussion and a torn MCL in his left knee. Those setbacks weren't going to deter Hudson, however.

"My coach told me I would be a go-to guy and that helped give me confidence," Hudson said. "The main reason coach McCormack knew I would be good and I started playing a lot is I would be in the (Meineke) rec center ever day. He'd be in there checking to see who was playing and he knew I spent a lot of time in the gym."

McCormack had also been upfront about what Hudson needed to do to play above the Division III or junior college levels.

"I ended up putting in the time," Hudson said of getting stronger and becoming a better ballhandler and mid-range shooter. "I had to work at developing a complete game."

It showed when Hudson scored 29 points in a victory over Glenbrook North. Hudson also got the attention of Ferris State coaches when they came to Chicago to observe players during the holiday tournaments.

"My assistant, Jim Lake, saw him first and said, 'Hey, this kid's pretty good,'" said Andy Bronkema, who became Ferris State's head coach June 28 after six years as an assistant. "He's tall and athletic and we're always looking for bigger perimeter players.

"When I watched him he dunked on a back-door alley-oop, hit a couple of 3s and showed enough that we stayed interested."

Hudson's academic improvement from a rocky start at Conant to a 3.0 grade-point average and a 25 ACT also helped seal the deal with Ferris State. So did his training with former Conant star Geoff McCammon, who had a similar path to high school success, a solid career at Loyola and an overseas professional career where he played last season in Germany.

"His experience and knowledge helped me out," Hudson said of McCammon, the Daily Herald Cook County All-Area captain in 2007. "He was one of the main people who convinced me to come here. He said you can develop and grow, especially with a redshirt year. He convinced me this was best for me."

An experienced Ferris State team will give Hudson the chance to work more on his game and getting stronger while still having four years of playing eligibility left. But he's already held his own in open gyms and Bronkema is impressed with Hudson's fundamentals and understanding of the game.

"He isn't a finished product and it will be a process," Bronkema said, "but a few weeks into school, we're excited about what we see."

McCormack can see a success story similar to Conant graduate Andre Holmes for Hudson.

Holmes went from relatively unknown in high school to a stellar football career as a wide receiver at D-II Hillsdale College in Michigan. Now he is with the Oakland Raiders after spending two seasons with the Dallas Cowboys.

"Like Andre, he's got a lot of potential down the road," McCormack said.

And Hudson can't wait for the chance to show successful destinations can be reached via roads less traveled.

"I know I have to keep grinding away and put myself in a position to get better," said Hudson, who is studying business data analytics. "If I work, by the time I'm a junior or senior this could be my team and I could lead it. And I want to try and play as long as I can."

Marty Maciaszek is a freelance columnist for the Daily Herald who can be reached at marty.maciaszek@gmail.com

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