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In praise of Zach Hankins

After a long time off Broadway, Zach Hankins is making the most of his chance.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Villanova Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

There must be nights when Zach Hankins wonders. Xavier’s grad transfer is putting together the most brutally efficient offensive season of any Xavier big man since the statistic was invented. (Yes, that includes David West). Still, there have to be times where Hankins wonders exactly what he could have done with just a little more time.

Hankins dedicated himself to basketball late, not really focusing on the sport until after his junior season in high school. He hit the AAU circuit that summer as a big from a small school (Charlevoix, MI has a population of around 2,600) who hadn’t been out on the recruiting boards a lot. He played well all summer and generated some buzz, but suffered a broken foot, and then a rebreak, that cost him essentially his entire senior season. That left the center with no DI offers and only one, Ferris State, from a DII school. Even that wasn’t a full ride, but a partial to come and see how he would work out. From a mid-major target to DII, it would have been easy to just pack it in and grind out a career just off the beaten path.

All serious players think that they are close to being at the level to play at the top. Trevon Bluiett and Zion Williamson know they can do it, but for every one of them there are ten other guys who think that with a little bit more height, a new move off the dribble, or another thousand shots in the gym, they would be right there. If you’ve played at the DII level or the NAIA schools in that same tier, you’ve come in contact with DI transfers, two star recruits, and the rest of the flotsam that NCAA DI teams cast off. It’s a menagerie of characters chasing the dream or just hanging on for as long as they possibly can. It’s six hour trips by van, not bus, to play in places like Pippa Passes, KY, Harrogate, TN, or Allendale, MI. Hankins went from battling Michigan State recruit and eventual NBA player Deyonta Davis to a standstill to playing in the land of almost.

Hankins didn’t even play his first year at Ferris State, redshirting instead. In that time, though, he started his development into the player currently 32nd in the nation in offensive efficiency. There’s a reason that most guys from DII don’t make it back. It’s an absolute grind to keep working through circumstances and situations that aren’t what most guys who were on the cusp were picturing. Former Xavier player Adrion Graves found that out the hard way as he fell through the ranks and eventually out the bottom. Hankins didn’t do that though, he just kept getting better.

The story is familiar by now. Hankins developed into the DII player of the year and chose Xavier over schools like Michigan and MSU. As you can read in the article above, projecting a guy who played a DII and is suddenly facing down Jessie Govan is a hard thing to do. Hankins has more than risen to the challenge, though. It speaks a lot to the dedication of a young man that he hasn’t arrived here and taken a moment to take a deep breath and savor the situation. Instead, Hankins has dominated. Govan was good when the Hoyas played Xavier, but it was Hankins who went for 23/10/2 and threw in three blocks for good measure.

Zach Hankins has been a revelation for Xavier. He’s more than advertised, a spring loaded dunker with deft touch around the rim. It’s entirely possible that he’s happy with the journey he took and where he’s landed with a chance to finally show off what he can do. If so, his character runs deeper than basketball can reveal. Xavier fans, though, will devour every one of his performances with the wistful thought of what he could do with just a little more time.