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Luke Hancock finds his niche at Louisville
The former Hidden Valley standout has played an important role for the Cardinals, the nation’s fourth-ranked team.
Luke Hancock of Louisville (right) knocks the ball away from Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant during Big East Conference action Saturday in Louisville, Ky. Louisville defeated Notre Dame 73-57.
Luke Hancock (11) shoots over Georgetown defender Nate Lubick. Hancock averages 7.2 points per game for Louisville and leads the team in 3-point baskets.
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Luke Hancock wanted to be a valuable contributor to one of the nation’s college basketball powerhouses.
Hancock got no Division I scholarship offers when he played for Hidden Valley High School. Now he is the top 3-point shooter for fourth-ranked Louisville.
After transferring from George Mason and sitting out last season under the NCAA’s transfer rules, Hancock has gotten to play in the rugged Big East.
The season hasn’t always been easy. He had to improve his defense, adjust to a new offensive role and deal with an injury.
But he averages 7.2 points and ranks fifth on the team in minutes. Today, the fourth-year junior will play in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden. Next week, he will play in the NCAA tournament for a team that could make the Final Four for the second straight year.
“I haven’t played as well as I’d have liked at points, but at the same time, I transferred to be on a top-10 team in the country and to play other top-10 teams every week, and I knew it wasn’t going to be a cakewalk,” Hancock said in a phone interview.
“But it’s been pretty much what I expected, what I wanted. I’m happy with my move.”
Hancock spent the 2008-09 season as part of Hargrave Military Academy’s postgraduate team in hopes of snaring a Division I offer. The decision paid off in scholarship offers from George Mason and other schools not in major conferences.
As a George Mason sophomore two years ago, Hancock averaged 10.9 points and made the All-Colonial Athletic Association third team. He had 18 points and sank the winning 3-pointer in the Patriots’ victory over Villanova in the 2011 NCAA tournament.
Because coach Jim Larranaga left George Mason for Miami in April 2011, Hancock decided to leave as well. This time, schools in major conferences wanted him. He picked Louisville over Virginia Tech, Virginia, Michigan and others.
Under NCAA rules, Hancock could practice with Louisville last season but wasn’t allowed to play in games. When Louisville won the Big East tournament last year, Hancock sat behind the team bench.
For this week’s Big East tournament, he will be on the court.
“I really can’t wait,” said Hancock, whose second-seeded team will play in a quarterfinal at 7 p.m. “Winning the Big East tournament is something I really want to be a part of. I don’t have to have a suit on in the stands. I’ll be in uniform.”
It would not be a shock if Hancock and company wound up in the Big East title game and in next month’s Final Four. Louisville is 26-5 and finished in a three-way tie for the Big East regular-season title with a 14-4 league mark.
Two months ago, Louisville spent one week as the No. 1 team in the Associated Press Top 25.
“Being ranked No. 1 in the country was a pretty fulfilling moment,” Hancock said.
Ups and downs
Louisville coach Rick Pitino stresses defense, so Hancock had to improve in that area.
“It’s been a big adjustment, something I’m still adjusting to,” Hancock said. “I’m getting better. Film and practice and getting yelled at, it’s all helped me out.
“I still played at George Mason, even though I wasn’t playing very good defense, because of what I was doing on the offensive end. Here, that’s not the case. If you don’t play defense, it really doesn’t matter how good you are on offense, you’re not going to play.”
He also struggled offensively early in the season.
Hancock suffered a dislocated right shoulder last April in a pickup game, resulting in surgery.
He blames the shoulder injury for his early shooting woes. The guard/forward was just 9 of 41 from 3-point range (22 percent) in Louisville’s first eight games.
But he is 38 of 86 from 3-point range (44.2 percent) in the past 23 games, including 12 of 18 in the last five games.
“My shoulder injury, it’s something I’m going to struggle with for a while,” Hancock said. “I still struggle with it every day, just getting it loose. Some days it hurts putting my arm above my head.”
He did have one impressive game in the early going, scoring 19 points and making five 3-pointers in a November win over Missouri. He said that game let him know that “I made a good decision and this is where I belong.”
At George Mason two years ago, Hancock led his team in assists. But he isn’t needed to fill that role at Louisville.
“I didn’t know what type of role I would have on offense,” he said. “At George Mason, I had the ball in my hands coming off pick-and-rolls every play. Here, you have [guards] Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who are two of the best pick-and-roll players in the country. So I had to fill a different role.”
At his previous schools, he usually scored by driving to the basket. Now he hurts foes from long range.
He leads the Cardinals in 3-point baskets with 47 — more than twice as many as he made two years ago at George Mason (23).
“He’s really changed his game,” said Louisville assistant coach Kevin Keatts, who also coached Hancock at Hargrave. “He’s become a legitimate 3-point threat for us.
“He’s had a tremendous year. He’s become a better defender. He’s become a better outside threat.”
In Big East regular-season games, Hancock ranked third in the league in 3-point field-goal percentage (43.2 percent).
“I had a year off to really work on my game and focused so much on shooting the ball that it’s kind of become a strength,” he said.
Hancock has started eight games this season, including six Big East games. He ranks sixth on the team in scoring.
He has scored in double figures in four of the past eight games. He had 22 points and four 3-pointers in a game at Notre Dame that went five overtimes. He made the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute to give his team a victory at Syracuse two weekends ago, when he had 12 points and was 4 of 5 from 3-point range.
“Playing well against Syracuse in the [Carrier] Dome was pretty big,” he said. “It’s definitely better when you’re hitting shots and feel like you’re contributing and playing a lot of minutes.
“At the same time, if I didn’t score a point all year and I played two minutes a game or whatever, it wouldn’t bother me if we were winning.”
Next week, Hancock will play in the NCAA tournament for the second time — this time in a Louisville uniform.
“Every basketball player loves March,” he said.
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