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Farewell, Zach Hankins!

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A grad transfer from DII and a fanbase that loves cult heroes turned out to be a perfect match.

NCAA Basketball: St. John at Xavier
Keep raising the roof, young friend.
Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

How do you take your inspirational stories? Xavier and transfers have provided plenty. There was the irrepressible Matt Stainbrook coming from the MAC with bowties, Uber driving (no, it’s true!), and cutting weight to become a post passing wizard capable of running with Arizona for 34 minutes. Malcolm Bernard came in from the hinterlands of Division One and left after a brilliant Sweet 16 game and a mad, gleeful dash into the history books.

Zach Hankins, however, came even farther in his trip to Xavier. The headbanded, roof-raising center plied his trade in Division Two before Travis Steele came calling when Evan Boudreaux decamped. This was the kind of jump that is exceedingly rare in college basketball. From games at Ashland and Wayne State, the bright lights of Madison Square Garden must have seemed like they were on a different planet. How would someone go from bus trips through rural Ohio to playing Villanova on a Big East midweek?

Zach Hankins did it with aplomb. Perhaps other players would have been content with an unorthodox haircut and headband, Hanky decided he was going to add to that the resurrection of a craze from the 90s. It took Zach exactly two games to be raising the roof with double digit points. He went on to do it 21 more times. Far from visibly struggling to adjust to the Big East and new level of competition, Hankins frequently dominated. Flashing deft touch to go along with the athleticism that allowed him to memorably match an Eric Paschall dunk (and then drag Nova on Twitter), Hankins was the 16th most efficient player in the nation.

Numbers don’t tell the story when it comes to becoming one of the players the Xavier fanbase coalesces around. Sometimes it takes the effortless and game killing cool of Tu Holloway, sometimes the genuine uniqueness of Matt Stainbrook. It doesn’t hurt to be possessed of buckets of swagger and the fearlessness to gator chomp Wisconsin and punch on Butler. Zach Hankins endeared himself, no doubt, with his two hand grasp on the dream he never let go and a willingness to be a happy assassin, mixing laughter with the most dunks for a Xavier player in quite some time. His numbers, though, bear a look.

As mentioned before, Hankins offensive efficiency of 128.7 was good for 16th in the nation. Zach was in the top 100 in two point field goal percentage, offensive rebounding rate, and block rate. On a team that struggled with turnovers he was a steady hand who posted a 12.9% assist rate in conference play while finishing 9th in ball security. His final Xavier line of 10.6/5.3/1.1 came on 68.6% from the floor and in just 22 minutes of play per game.

But that doesn’t really tell the story of Zach at Xavier. He was there when the team needed him. There was the dunk against Villanova, a dominant performance in the incredible comeback over Georgetown, and three blocks in a must win over St. John’s. When Xavier had to rescue their season, Hankins found just a little more, posting offensive efficiencies over 130 in six of Xavier’s last seven games.

As we grow up we are all told that just a little more trying will get us to our dreams. Reality sets in for most of us early in a moment where our jump stops before the other guys, when we can’t catch someone from behind, or when the wall chart never moves past 5’9”. Zach Hankins had to wonder after injury left him redshirting at Ferris State if maybe his dream would stop there. It didn’t though. For just a season, Hanky got to play at the top level. It was Xavier Nation’s privilege to have him do it here.