George Mason fortunate it gave Hancock a second look

CLEVELAND – Luke Hancock had already shaken off Villanova’s Corey Stokes in the final minute of Friday’s NCAA tournament game. He had space to operate and time to do so effectively.

And then the George Mason guard briefly stopped, surveyed the scene and deposited a 3-pointer through the basket.

“I guess I was kind of thinking about whether it was the best shot to take,” Hancock said less than 24 hours after he shot the Patriots past Villanova to book passage into the round of 32.

Funny. Mason (27-6) paused on Hancock, too.

The sophomore scored 18 points in the Patriots’ tournament opener, securing a date with top-seeded Ohio State (33-2) at Quicken Loans on Sunday. Yet his spectacular postseason play – he was one point shy of his career-high – would never have occurred were it not for some serious cajoling from coach Jim Larranaga’s staff.

Hancock, after all, was a high school graduate with no Division I offers when he opted to attend Hargrave Military Academy. Mason assistant Michael Huger uncovered Hancock by accident, noticing him on a scouting trip to see eventual Oakland signee Ledrick Eackles.

By the time he returned to Fairfax, Huger was already raving about the 6-foot-5 guard.

“He looked great the day I saw him,” Huger said. “I called Coach L and said ‘Hey, they have a kid up there at Hargrave who’s really good and you really need to come out here and see him play. I just think he can help us. He can put it on the floor, he’s really athletic, he can run and shoot – he’s what we need, what we’re looking for.”

So Huger (who played for Larranaga at Bowling Green) and Larranaga hopped in a car a week later to make the four-hour drive to Chatham, Va.

And then … nothing.

“I watched him play for two hours,” Larranaga recalled. “He scored two points in the entire two hours.”

Added Hancock: “I had a terrible game – a terrible day.”

Needless to say, a scholarship offer wasn’t forthcoming, at least not yet. Larranaga promised he would be back, but couldn’t commit to anything beyond that.

Perhaps the only person more anxious about the outing than Hancock was Huger, who still had a four-hour ride home with his boss.

“We go into the gym and they’re warming up and I’m waiting as they start practicing and playing and it’s like ‘Yeah, OK, when are you going to start playing? What is going on?’” Huger said. “He was just running up and down. The one thing he did do was pass; he passed the ball pretty well the day Coach L and I went there to see him. So I said he’s passing the ball pretty well, but he’s not scoring and not shooting. He’s not doing any of things he did when I saw him just a week ago.”

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