Louisville guard Luke Hancock begins a new chapter in his career Sunday when the No. 2 Cardinals open the season against Manhattan.
The transfer from George Mason had to watch Louisville make its exciting run to the Final Four while sitting out last season per NCAA rules. Hancock's ability to shoot the 3-pointer should help the Cardinals, but his impact won't be immediate as he continues recovering from surgery on his right shooting shoulder this spring.
He has been cleared to practice ahead of schedule and during the preseason demonstrated his ability to play on the wing. Hancock's leadership skills on and off the court haven't gone unnoticed, either; he has been named a co-captain before playing his first game for Louisville.
"It's been a long time, about a year and a half since I really prepared for a real game," said Hancock, who averaged 9.4 points and shot nearly 35 percent from 3-point range in two seasons with the Patriots.
"I'm so excited to go out there and compete again. And I don't have to compete against my own team. It'll be nice to get back out there in a real setting."
Whatever outside production Hancock provides should help a Cardinals team that shot 32 percent from behind the arc last season. They missed their first 17 3-point attempts in Wednesday's 65-49 exhibition victory over Bellarmine before Hancock hit Louisville's only 3-pointer — and the Cardinals finished a woeful 1 of 19.
But Hancock is more than just a scorer.
Though he's not 100 percent, Hancock packed the stat sheet in the exhibition season, finishing with eight points, six rebounds, five assists and no turnovers.
"Luke does a lot of things, and gets everybody involved," junior guard Russ Smith said.
That versatility not only gives Louisville another ball-handling option besides senior Peyton Siva and Smith, but a solid rebounder as well.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino believes Hancock's shot will eventually come around but stresses that 3-point shooting is not a priority for his team right now.
"Take 12 to 15 (3-point attempts) a game, but don't make it a big deal," Pitino said of his strategy. "Luke's going to be a very good shooter. But it's going to take him probably six more weeks before you see the real Luke Hancock in terms of shooting."
Just getting ready for a game requires an extra half hour for Hancock, who sustained the shoulder injury in a pickup game. He was cleared to practice in September about three months ahead of the normal nine-month recovery period and has spent the fall trying to regain his game rhythm.
Hancock's pregame routine involves stretching with team trainer Fred Hina, throwing full-court passes and overhead throwing to get loose. It ends with him going through an extended shooting drill to give him the flexibility he needs to play.
"Sitting around, standing around, it doesn't bother me that much," Hancock said. "But if I try to go overhead without being loose, it would cause me some pain.
"Like anybody does before a game, you have to stretch and warm up. My warm-up takes a little bit longer than other people because of my shoulder. In 20 minutes, I shoot the ball and throw some passes, get stretched out and I'm ready to go."
The 22-year-old is heartened to be named a Cardinals captain but not totally surprised. After all, he arrived with two seasons of experience under his belt and has pointed out many things to teammates in practice and workouts.
What he looks forward to most is finally doing it on the court with something at stake.
"I've kind of gotten in a groove and gotten in the swing of things," Hancock said. Obviously there's a little bit of rust in there. I'm going to be working through my shoulder (issues) for a while. But I feel pretty good going into the season."
Sunday's game also marks the return of sophomore forward Chane Benahan, who was suspended for both exhibitions following a series of off-court issues last summer that Pitino didn't specify. His physical style should help on defense and the Cardinals can use his 9.5 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
The game is also a Cardinals reunion. First-year Manhattan coach Steve Masiello was a Louisville assistant under Pitino from 2005-11.