Louisville forward Luke Hancock (11) is enjoying the support of teammates like Chane Behanan as his father battles a serious illness.
ATLANTA (WDRB) – Adversity does not believe in timeouts. Difficult moments can always intrude on joy and celebration. The University of Louisville basketball team can testify to that.
On the day the Cardinals played their way into the NCAA Final Four they watched Kevin Ware go down and stay down with a compound fracture to his right leg that was so unsettling that his teammates had to look away.
Luke Hancock was the U of L teammate who put an arm around Ware and prayed – and now it is Hancock who is being surrounded by prayers in the Cardinals' locker room.
"Luke's a tough kid, very valuable to the team," U of L assistant coach Kevin Keatts said. "He'll do anything you ask. His dad is a no-nonsense guy, kind of serious. He's raised Luke well. It's a very supportive family."
For more than a year Hancock's father, Bill, has battled an illness that is so serious that Luke was uncertain that his father and mother, Ven, would drive from central Virginia to watch Hancock play in the national semifinals when U of L defeated Wichita State Saturday in the Georgia Dome.
They had been in New York City three weeks ago when the Cardinals won the Big East Tournament, but they were not in Lexington or Indianapolis when U of L won its first four NCAA Tournament games.
But Hancock's teammates and coaches were as thrilled to see Bill Hancock in the Georgia Dome Saturday night as they were to see Luke Hancock score 20 indispensable points during the Louisville victory.
"He's 70 years old," Hancock said. "I'm happy he was here."
"Luke doesn't like to say much about it because he doesn't want it to become a big story," U of L forward Stephan Van Treese said.
Odds are that it will be a major story Monday night when Louisville tries to win the school's third NCAA championship by defeating Michigan. Hancock was taken from the Cardinals' locker room to be interviewed by network television personnel at the beginning of Louisville's 30-minute availability Sunday.
You can be certain they asked Hancock about the way that he and roommate Tim Henderson stirred the Cardinals' second-half comeback by punishing Wichita State with their three-point shooting.
You can also be certain they will ask Hancock about the way that his teammates are comforting him the same way that they comforted Ware.
"That's the first thing he said to me when he came up (for the post-game press conferences)," U of L coach Rick Pitino said.
"He said, ‘Coach, thanks so much. My dad got a chance to see it.' That was the proudest moment for him because his father has been in poor health."
For the last two months, Hancock has been the player that Pitino promised he would be when the coach named him a co-captain of this 2012-13 team before he had even played a game.
Keatts is the guy who discovered Hancock at Hidden Valley High School near Roanoke, Va., five years ago. His only opportunities to play college basketball were from Division III schools, even though Hancock was a full academic qualifier.
Rather than proceed without a scholarship, Hancock played one season for Keatts at Hargrave Military Academy before signing with George Mason. Hancock played two solid seasons there and would have completed his career in the Colonial Athletic Association until his coach, Jim Larranaga, departed for Miami.
Now the chase was on. More than 10 schools wanted Hancock. But Louisville had two advantages – Keatts joined the U of L staff in the spring of 2011 and Hancock has an older brother who lives in town. All Pitino needed was one look on an unofficial visit to offer a scholarship.
Hancock looked great last season in practice and was expected to do marvelous things this season. But he started slowly while recovering from surgery on his right (shooting) shoulder last spring.
November and December were struggles, complete with the noticeable groans from home fans whenever Hancock missed a shot in the KFC Yum! Center. "He could barely raise both arms above his shoulders," Keatts said. "That was pressing on him more than missing shots."
These days the shots are going in.
Averaging 9.4 points, Hancock has been Louisville's second-leading scorer in the Cardinals' NCAA Tournament run, making six of 14 three-point shots, shooting 58 percent from the field and 81 percent from the line. Hancock has been marvelous, even as he has wondered if his father would be able to show up and watch him play one more time.
Bill Hancock was there Saturday – and he should be back in the Georgia Dome Monday night.
"That was great inspiration for him," Keatts said. "We've all been really happy to see Mr. Hancock here because we know what he's battling and we know what it means to him to see his son play on this stage."