Before he went off to Google “tattoo parlors in Louisville,” Rick Pitino took a moment to offer praise for Luke Hancock, the kid who helped deliver the school’s third NCAA championship and Pitino’s second.
“It was their four shooters against Luke,” Pitino said after Louisville’s 82-76 victory over Michigan on Monday night. “Luke more than held his own.”
Well, it wasn’t quite four-on-one, but Pitino can be forgiven his exaggeration. The biggest moment of Hancock’s basketball life came under tough personal circumstances. His father, Bill, was watching his son’s performance in the Georgia Dome, but he’s seriously ill with an undisclosed illness.
“I couldn’t have thought of anything better for [Luke],” Tim Henderson said (via ESPN). “To be able to do that and have his dad witness it. It’s incredible. It was like it was meant to be.
“Stuff like this happens all the time. You always have that player that goes under the radar and they just need that one big stage to shine. Luke got on the stage and he showed his stuff. I’m going to tell my grandkids I played with him. He’s a Louisville legend right now.”
Hancock dug deep and his 22-point performance earned him Most Outstanding Player honors, making him the first non-starter to earn that honor in NCAA tournament history. He hit 5-of-5 three-pointers, a perfect mark that has never been accomplished in a title game. All with Dad watching. Being there, Bill Hancock told the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Adam Himmelsbach, “meant everything.”
Hancock wasn’t certain if his father would make the trip from Roanoke, Va., to Atlanta. But Bill Hancock wouldn’t miss it.
At halftime, with Louisville trailing, 38-37, the father put his head down and leaned forward, slumping in his chair as his wife gently rubbed his shoulder.
You could see he was tired. You could see he was not feeling well. But Hancock’s brothers said their father is a fighter.
“I’m just so happy he got to be here,” said Luke’s brother, Stephen, who has served eight tours in Iraq. “It’s a good thing. It’s a good thing.”
As Luke made his way from one net to the other after the game, joining his teammates and their scissors, I asked him what it meant to have his father here.
“You have no idea,” he said. “The feeling is unbelievable and I can’t even put it into words.”
It was easy to overlook Hancock in the wake of the sickening leg injury Kevin Ware suffered March 31. But it was Hancock, who helped Ware and calmed his teammates that night, as they went on to beat Duke.
“That’s my son’s nature,” his mother, Van, told Yahoo’s Pat Forde. “I was just overwhelmed with pride. Luke’s a very caring, sensitive, compassionate person.”
Luke’s compassionate response became part of the weeklong Kevin Ware media immersion. Everyone was talking about Ware and his extraordinary response to the trauma, and eventually people got around to talking about his teammate’s act of support, too.
Luke graciously answered questions about it whenever he was asked, as if Ware’s broken leg was the only adversity in his life. He never once let on what he’d been dealing with this entire postseason.
“You can’t imagine how he feels,” [teammate Mike] Marra said. “It’s remarkable how he’s handled all this. There aren’t words to describe how strong he is.”
After the game, Hancock took his turn cutting down the nets.
“The string goes to Dad.”