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The Hidden Valley grad says making it to the Final Four will be 10 times better this year.
Hidden Valley High School graduate Luke Hancock (center) celebrates with his Louisville teammates after winning the Big East Conference championship. Louisville is making its second straight trip to the Final Four.
Luke Hancock (11) gets an easy basket against Colorado State in an NCAA tournament game.
Thursday, April 4, 2013
At last year’s Final Four, Luke Hancock was in the stands, wearing a suit.
This time, the Hidden Valley High School graduate will get to be a part of the action.
Hancock averages 7.4 points and 22 minutes for Louisville, which will face Wichita State on Saturday in the Final Four in Atlanta. The Cardinals made the Final Four in New Orleans last year, but Hancock had to sit out last season after transferring from George Mason.
“I’m sitting here looking at a picture of us from the Final Four last year … and remembering how much fun it was and how good of a time I had just being around the team. It’ll be 10 times that this year,” Hancock said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’ll be an unbelievable feeling to be out there.
“It is what every basketball player dreams of, to be in a Final Four.”
The fourth-year junior scored 10 points off the bench Sunday to help the Cardinals clinch their latest Final Four berth with a win over Duke in the Midwest Regional final in Indianapolis.
That game took a dramatic turn when Louisville guard Kevin Ware broke his right leg with 6:33 left in the first half. The gruesome nature of the injury brought the anguished Cardinals to tears. As trainers aided Ware, many teammates initially stayed away from him because of the sight of the protruding bone.
But Hancock went over to try to comfort Ware.
“It was very rough when it happened. I took a second and then tried to go by his side,” Hancock said.
He did so because of what had happened when Hancock suffered a dislocated shoulder in a pickup game last April.
“My shoulder popped out of place — which is nothing like Kevin’s, I’ve never seen an injury like Kevin’s — but when my shoulder popped out of place and it didn’t pop back in, it was hanging out. I remember people’s faces, looking at my shoulder. That freaked me out more than anything,” Hancock said. “As much as it hurt, the look on people’s faces [about] how bad it was kind of made it worse.
“So I wanted to be there and make sure he knew we were there with him and it was going to be all right.”
In an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday, Ware credited Hancock for calming him down.
“He got me to that point where I really had to put the pain on hold,” Ware said. “Once he said his prayer, I was kind of thinking the whole time, ‘You can either be a crybaby about it or you’re going to get your team back and get them in the right mindset.’
“Luke said his words, and I just kept repeating, ‘Y’all gotta go win this game.’ ”
Hancock was on the bench at that point in the game because of foul trouble. He did not go back in the game until the second half.
“If I had gone back in the game [immediately after Ware’s injury], I don’t think I would’ve done anything or played very well. It was very tough,” Hancock said. “I didn’t think about basketball for a while. I got in in the second half and luckily I can block a lot of things out on the basketball court. But Kevin was still on my mind the whole time.”
Louisville (33-5) won 85-63.
“Everybody on the team felt like we were doing it for Kevin,” he said. “It’s not good, what happened to him, but the way we could respond and rally around him was pretty big.”
When Louisville won the Big East tournament and its Elite Eight game last year, Hancock celebrated on the court with his teammates but opted not to help cut down the nets at either game because he had not seen action.
He hasn’t helped cut down the nets this year, either. The Cardinals did not cut down the nets at Madison Square Garden after repeating as Big East tournament champs last month, nor did they cut down the nets after beating Duke.
“We’ve got one set of nets we want to cut down. We’ve got one big goal,” said Hancock, referring to the national championship.
Hancock has played in 38 games this season, starting eight. He ranks fifth on the team in minutes, sixth in scoring and second in 3-pointers (55).
The guard/forward struggled in the team’s first eight games but is shooting 41.1 percent from 3-point range in the past 30 games.
He is 20 of 39 from 3-point range (51.3 percent) in the last 12 games, averaging 9.2 points in that span.
He has scored in double figures in five of the past eight games, including all three of the team’s Big East tournament games.
“People were down on me at first, but as my shoulder’s gotten better, I feel like I’ve started to play better,” he said.
When Hancock began growing a beard late in the regular season, he said he would not shave it until the team lost.
“We haven’t lost in quite a while,” Hancock said. “It’s getting pretty grizzly right now.”
Hancock, whose parents and siblings will be at the Georgia Dome to root him on, said he is not nervous about playing in the Final Four.
“I play a little better when it’s a bigger stage,” he said. “I’m a guy who’s been around a long time. I’ve played a lot of games. So I’m not going to go out there and be scared.”
As a George Mason sophomore, Hancock sank the winning 3-pointer in the Patriots’ victory over Villanova in the round of 64 in the 2011 NCAA tournament.
Has he been visualizing himself making the winning shot this weekend?
“I like to visualize us up by more points than any game-winning shot,” he said with a laugh. “I’m just thinking about the things I need to do defensively. Offense is just going to kind of flow and happen hopefully off of our defense. We play better when we’re getting steals and running and pushing the ball. I’m going to try to knock down open shots, get to the rim when I can and find teammates when I can.”
Because coach Jim Larranaga left George Mason for Miami in April 2011, Hancock decided to leave as well. He picked Louisville over Virginia Tech, Virginia, Michigan and others.
On Saturday that decision he made two years ago will pay off with the opportunity to play in the Final Four.
“I’m just blessed that it all worked out the way it did,” Hancock said. “I’m just excited to be in this moment.”
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