ATLANTA — With all due respect to Kevin Ware, he was not most heart-warming story from this Final Four.
And don’t get me wrong here. What he went through — and the way that his Louisville teammates responded — was incredible. The horrific injury, the tears on the court, the message of inspiration from a college kid whose leg had, quite literally, snapped in half on the court was nothing short of amazing.
But when it’s all said and done, Ware is going to be fine. We’ll see him play basketball again, maybe as early as the start of next season.
Luke Hancock’s dad may never have the pleasure of seeing him play basketball again. He’s sick. The family did not want to disclose his illness, but it’s bad enough that Hancock’s father almost couldn’t make it to Georgia.
He did, and what he saw was straight out of a dream. Hancock scored 20 points on Saturday night, including 13 in the final 12 minutes, as he made every big play down the stretch to lead a comeback against Wichita State to reach the title game. That alone was the kind of performance that would make Hancock a tournament legend and a hero in Louisville for the rest of his life. He’ll never sit down at a bar in that city and have to pay for his own beer.
What made the performance all the better was that Hancock isn’t a highly-touted recruit. He’s not an all-american and he didn’t have blue-bloods beating down his door while he was in high school. Before he went to Hargrave Military Academy for a prep year, he didn’t have a single scholarship offer. He wound up playing for George Mason for two seasons, but ended up transferring to Louisville — where his former prep school coach is an assistant on Rick Pitino’s staff — when Jim Larranaga headed south to Miami.
Hancock is Louisville’s sixth-man, the veteran leader and the strongest presence in the locker room. He’s a guy that has spent the entire season dealing with the painful recovery that comes with major shoulder surgery. He averaged 7.7 points on the season. He’s anything but a star on a team that includes Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan.
But Saturday night wasn’t even Hancock’s best performance of the Final Four.
On Monday, Hancock once again led the Cardinals with 22 points, but it was a two minute stretch late in the first half that firmly entrenched his position in March Madness lore.
After Spike Albrecht put on a show, scoring 17 first half points while Trey Burke was buried on the bench with two fouls, Hancock single-handedly led the Cardinals back. He hit one three. Then another. Then two more, each one deeper than the last. By the time the halftime buzzer had sounded, Louisville had cut the Michigan lead to just 38-37. Without that flurry of long-range bombs, Louisville wouldn’t be leaving the Georgia Dome with a ring.
For his troubles, Hancock was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player, the first player to win that award while coming off the bench.
And he did it all in front of his father.
“It’s been a long road,” Hancock said. “There’s really no way to describe how I feel that my dad was here. It’s hard to put into words. I’m so excited he was here.”
“I always look at him after games and ask him: ‘How was that?'” Hancock added. “And he just smiled and said, ‘It was great.'”
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.