Why not: Luke Hancock’s improbable rise to glory
Ever since Kevin Ware‘s gruesome leg injury, much of the attention surrounding Louisville focused on Ware and how the team would cope with both the gore of his injury and the loss of his ability on the court. The story of Luke Hancock, a junior transfer from George Mason University with a gravely ill father, was lost in the shuffle.
But Hancock earned a spot on the front pages Tuesday thanks to his play in both the NCAA championship game and his performance in Louisville’s win over Wichita State. On Saturday against Wichita State, Hancock came off the bench to score 20 points in a second-half rally that propelled the Cardinals to the 72-68 win.
Then in the championship game against Michigan, Hancock almost single-handedly engineered a Cardinal comeback. The Cardinals were down by 12 in the first half when Hancock came in. He drilled four straight three-pointers and accounted for 14 of Louisville’s 16 points in a 16-3 run that gave the Cardinals a 37-36 lead and changed the momentum of the game.
There’s no mystery as to why Hancock was named the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player. But it would be an insult to Hancock’s journey to only highlight his play on the court.
According to Hancock’s bio on the Louisville website, the 6-foot-6 forward says the best advice he ever received was, “If he can do it, why not you?”
Just a few years ago, it would be very easy for Hancock to answer why he couldn’t for a number of questions.
Hancock was not well-recruited out of high school, so he played a year of prep school basketball at Hargrave Military Academy. That year of prep school was Hancock’s only shot; Hancock did not have a scholarship at Hargrave, meaning his parents had to use the money saved up for his college tuition in order to pay for a year of prep school. If Hancock wanted to play at the college level, he had to earn a scholarship based on his year of prep play.
Hancock succeeded, helping Hargrave become national prep school runners-up and earning a spot on the all-tournament team while also winning himself a scholarship to George Mason. Everything went swimmingly for Hancock’s first two years at George Mason until the coach, Jim Larranaga left for Miami, prompting Hancock to transfer. By this point in Hancock’s career, schools that turned him down for scholarships before were now competing for his attention.
Hancock stayed true to the people who helped him reach the point of becoming a desirable college ballplayer. Instead of going to Virginia Tech, Hancock chose to transfer to Louisville where Kevin Keatts, Hancock’s coach from Hargrave, was now working.
With two strong years of college basketball behind him, Hancock’s road should have been easy. Stay in shape, then work his way into the lineup once eligible to play for Louisville. Why couldn’t he do it?
Hancock has a history of injury problems, and he suffered quite a blow in what was reportedly a silly pick-up game this past off season, injuring his shoulder severely enough to require surgery. According to head coach Rick Pitino, the injury was so bad Pitino was not sure Hancock would recover in time for the season.
“I’ve never seen so much damage in my life. The doctor said it was the worst shoulder he ever operated on,” Pitino said of the injury after Louisville’s win over Wichita State Saturday night. “That man, in the beginning of the year, it took him a half hour of warm-ups just to lift his arm above his shoulder. I [asked our trainer], ‘Is he going to play this year?’ He said, ‘No one but Luke will play. Toughest kid I’ve ever seen since I’ve been a trainer.’ He’s a remarkable young man.”
Hancock does not seem to see what he can’t do, only what he can do, and he was in the lineup for the first game of the season not just as a member of the Cardinals, but as a junior co-captain. Hancock had yet to play a minute of basketball at Louisville when he was named captain.
Hancock’s early returns on the court were not good. Fans were complaining that the junior was over-hyped, and when Hancock went 4-for-29 on three-pointers through Louisville’s first four games, the fans had every reason to complain.
Hancock did not let the dissatisfaction affect him. He kept playing his game and eventually found his form, as he ended up leading the team with a .432 three-pointer percentage.
And as for his role as captain, Hancock’s abilities as a leader were never more obvious than when Kevin Ware went down.
While the rest of his teammates understandably doubled over in horror and shied away from Ware and the bone sticking out of his leg, Hancock was the lone player who sat down right at Ware’s side, held his hand and said a prayer with Ware. The moment calmed Ware enough to be able to call over the rest of his teammates and encourage them to win the game.
Through it all, Hancock never said a word about his father, Bill Hancock, who is so gravely ill that, when he attended the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, he was only able to attend one of the three games. The trip was on Hancock’s father’s bucket list, and it seemed that would be the last time he would ever see his son play basketball in person.
The family has steadily refused to reveal exactly what is ailing Bill Hancock, but the 70-year-old is clearly suffering from something very, very serious. It is impossible to imagine the feelings running through Hancock’s mind when, after beating Wichita State on Saturday, Hancock was able to hug his father in the front row of the Georgia Dome.
“There’s really no way to describe how I feel that my dad was here,” Hancock said. “It’s hard to put into words. I’m so excited that he was here, it just means a lot.”
Who knows how much it meant to Bill Hancock to be there when his son won the NCAA championship and was named Most Outstanding Player. Both moments are certainly ones the Hancock family will treasure. And by virtue of winning Most Outstanding Player, Hancock was able to answer one more “why not me?”
No non-starter had ever won the Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player before Hancock did Monday night. But really, why not Hancock?