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The player who emerged was junior forward Luke Hancock, a transfer from George Mason who'd had zero D-I offers before he did a prep year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. While Ware's suffering became morning-show material, few knew of Hancock's own worries—until the source of those worries was sitting in the front row behind Louisville's bench on Monday night. Hancock ran out for warmups and looked at his 70-year-old father, Bill, "and I kind of choked up, because he gets exhausted just sitting there, and he had his head down and didn't look at me."
The man whom Hancock calls Dad-o is battling an illness so serious that his wife, Van, would only say, "It's just so bad that I don't even want to say it." Bill had seen Luke play in one game of the Big East tournament in New York City—something he'd always wanted to do—and there was concern, in the family, that that might be the last time he saw Luke play this season.
But Bill gathered the strength to travel from the family home in Roanoke, Va., to Atlanta, and Luke took it upon himself to energize his father, and the throngs of Louisville fans in the 74,326-person crowd, by scoring 14 straight points in the first half to cut the Wolverines' lead to one. He reversed the game's momentum and finished with 22 points and no turnovers, shooting 5 of 5 from long range. Afterward Hancock walked up to his father and asked him a question he'd asked after hundreds of games:
"How was that?"
"That was great," Bill said.
Dad-o's favorite piece of advice for Luke is Pull the trigger.
"I pulled the trigger, right?"
"Yeah, you did."
Bill was too exhausted to stand, but he sat with Van and their five other children and watched the video board to see Luke being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. "This is unreal," Van said, to no one in particular. The family grabbed a plastic bag and stuffed into it some of the streamers that had fallen from the Georgia Dome ceiling: something tangible to remind them, when they returned to Roanoke, that it hadn't all been a dream.
Such heroics were not out of character for Hancock, who was the one truly poised Cardinal in a rockfight against Wichita State, scoring nine points in the final 6½ minutes. Backup guard Tim Henderson says Hancock has that "it factor": "He's not afraid to shine in that moment."