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This Luke is a cool hand

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You may not have seen Luke Hancock play at UofL, but those who have are impressed at all he can do.

By Josh Cook

Before the first two red-white scrimmages, it’s likely that more University of Louisville men’s basketball fans had heard about Luke Hancock than had actually seen him play.

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That’s because Cardinals Coach Rick Pitino, who is occasionally prone to hyperbole, had talked up Hancock last season, when this transfer from George Mason was sitting out, and in the offseason (even making him a team captain).

“Luke Hancock is like a myth,” UofL senior guard Peyton Siva, the team’s other co-captain, said Sunday at Louisville’s media day. “No one knows who he is, but he is the greatest player already, and he hasn’t played a game.”

Hancock, a 6-foot-6 junior forward, has proven to be more than a myth – but not quite a legend…yet – in the Cards’ first two intrasquad games. However if Hancock can help Louisville reach a second consecutive Final Four and possibly win a third national championship, he could begin his path toward the latter.

He certainly didn’t hurt his burgeoning storied status in Sunday’s second red-white game. Hancock scored a game-high 29 points on 7-of-13 shooting – including 4-for-4 from 3-point range – in leading the Red team to an 85-74 victory. In addition to his field-goal shooting, Hancock hit 11 of 12 from the free-throw line and dished out six assists while playing point guard in the place of Siva, who received a mild sprained ankle in the early minutes.

“It really was a blessing because I had to find out if Luke could play [point guard],” Pitino said afterward. “The really impressive thing was he was doing it against Russ Smith, a six-foot guard, in your jock, who is one of the better defensive players in the country. That was the good thing.”

And Hancock did that despite a bruised toe, which, Pitino said, nearly kept him out of the scrimmage.

“He gutted it out,” the coach said.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise when you consider Hancock’s background.

He grew up (his hometown is Roanoke, Va.) with four older brothers, and the two closest in age to him, Hancock said, made things difficult for him at times.

However it also toughened him up for his basketball playing days at Hidden Valley High School and then his one year at Hargrave Military Academy, where he played for current UofL assistant coach Kevin Keatts, before he headed to George Mason.

At that mid-major school, which made the 2006 Final Four, Hancock earned Colonial Athletic Association all-rookie team honors after averaging 7.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 3 assists per game as a freshman.

He followed that up by averaging 10.9 points, 4.6 rebounds and a team-high 4.3 assists in helping the Patriots to a 27-7 record and into the third round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. He scored 18 points – including a big 3-pointer late – in George Mason’s second-round victory over ninth-seeded Villanova. In the third round the Patriots lost to top-seeded Ohio State, which would go on to lose to Kentucky in the Round of 16.

But when George Mason Coach Jim Larranaga left for the University of Miami (Fla.) after the season, Hancock went looking for a new home.

He found it in Louisville.

“Once I came here and talked to Coach Pitino, it was a done deal,” Hancock said.

His time in town hasn’t been easy, though. He separated his right shoulder during a pick-up game last spring and had to have surgery.

“He had a very serious shoulder injury; he tore everything in there,” Pitino said after the first red-white game. “Every time he jams his shoulder, he has scar tissue that hurts. He falls and then he dives on the floor, then he comes back and tries to draw a charge, so he’s a pretty tough kid, very tough kid. Most kids would have been out another one to two months, but he's come back. He’s a really, really tough young man.”

In addition to his physical problems Hancock also had to deal with the fact he had to sit and watch last season as UofL made a memorable march to the Big East Tournament title and to the Final Four.

“It was tough for me last year,” he said. “It was one of those situations where you felt not quite a part of the team as you’d like to be.”

But as he’s already shown in the Cards’ first two scrimmages, that won’t be the case this season. Hancock, Pitino said, will bring leadership, versatility and outside shooting to the team that is ranked No. 2 nationally in the preseason coaches and has national championship aspirations.

"He's not a young kid,” Pitino said. “He's been through it. When I called Jim Larranaga, and I said, ‘What do we have in this young man?’ He said, 'With five seconds to go in the game, if you have to get the ball inbounds against a press, have him in-bound it. If you need somebody to take a shot, have him take the shot. If you need somebody to make the play, have him make the play. If you need a steal or rebound, he'll make it.' ‘He's a big-time gamer,’ is what he said. And for this basketball team, he's much needed.”