ATLANTA -- It was last Oct. 17 at the New York Athletic Club during Big East media day festivities that Louisville coach Rick Pitino identified the one big difference between the previous season's Final Four team that lost in the national semifinals and his 2012-13 club. Pitino pointed not to some high-profile freshman recruit but to a junior transfer from George Mason.
"The great addition for us is going to be Luke Hancock because he gives us shooting," Pitino said that day. "He's the key to our team.
Vision like that must explain why Pitino is Hall of Fame coach who celebrated his admission on Monday with his second national championship, an 82-76 win over Michigan.
Hancock scored 22 points and was 5-for-5 from three-point range. He scored 14 points, including four straight three-pointers, in a lightning-fast 16-3 run just before halftime that wiped out a 12-point deficit and changed the game.
That came on the heels of his 20-point effort in a semifinal victory over Wichita State, where his shooting down the stretch made the difference in another 12-point comeback by the Cardinals. Hancock's hot shooting made him the first bench player ever named most outstanding player of the Final Four, according to NCAA research going back to 1939.
Referring to Louisville's starting guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, Hancock said, "Russ and Peyton lead the show, and I just try to play off them."
Hancock's teammates know better. They named him a team captain before he played a game for them. They admired how he's managed to play effectively through shoulder injuries.
When backup guard Kevin Ware suffered his terrifying compound leg fracture in the Midwest Regional final against Duke, they saw how Hancock left the bench to go pray over Ware because he couldn't stand to see him alone in agony.
After the championship was won, Hancock didn't forget Ware, saying, "He's over there on the sideline, and he wants to play so bad that it inspires you to play better, play harder. Just looking at him is an inspiration."
The Cardinals also know Hancock has his own deep concerns about his gravely ill 70-year-old father Bill, who was able to attend the Final Four despite his weakness. Hancock admitted he teared up when he took the court Monday night because he saw how worn out and frail his father appeared.
"He kind of had his head down when I ran out and didn't look at me," Hancock said. "It hurt me a little bit. But then to see how happy he was and that smile on his face when I came up to him after the game. I always ask him, 'How was that?' He smiled and said, 'It was great.'
"He always tells me to pull the trigger. So, I said, 'I pulled the trigger, right?' And he said, 'Yeah, you did.' "