Hancock living dream at Edgewood

Basketball: The Rams senior is averaging over 35 points per game, but his quickness complements his deft long-range shooting.

January 24, 2001|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Edgewood's Jermaine Hancock has three posters in his bedroom.

One is of a boy sleeping and dreaming about basketball.

Another is of a boy holding a basketball and the words: "If you can dream it, you can achieve it."

The third is of Michael Jordan.

For Hancock, now averaging 35.8 points per game before last night's game against visiting Havre de Grace, his dreams have coalesced into reality and his basketball exploits, at least at the high school level, are Jordanesque.

Last Wednesday, before a packed gym at Edgewood, facing Harford County rival and then No. 3-ranked defending state Class 2A champion Aberdeen, Hancock scored a career-high 49 points.

He also sank a career-high nine three-pointers, most of them from well beyond the arc - and some of them from off the dribble as he soared through the air. Most of the three-pointers touched nothing but net. He also scored his 1,000th career point.

Quite a night by any standard, but not good enough for Hancock, the area's leading scorer whose lowest point total this season was 21 against North County.

"I'd rather have had a win than the 1,000th point," he said, after the overmatched Rams (9-4 overall, 6-1 league) had absorbed their first league loss, a 94-74 pounding by Aberdeen. His sad, tired face testified to his feeling, as he clutched, indifferently, a basketball commemorating his 1,000th point.

Aberdeen coach Richard Hart praised Hancock. "That's the first time anyone ever scored 49 points against my team. He's quick off the dribble and is an incredible offensive player with a shooting range I've never seen. He's got quite a future in college."

Long-range shooting, Hancock's forte, played only a part in his multi-faceted effort against Hart's team, however.

While performing at a furious pace for a full 32 minutes, Hancock fearlessly drove to the basket by employing a quickness that outstripped all of his opponents. He repeatedly broke presses with his dribble. He stole the ball from opponents and converted the steals into layups. He made searingly accurate passes to teammates under the basket. He displayed a multitude of highlight-reel quality moves to free himself to shoot - such as splitting two defenders by jumping into the air and simultaneously dribbling between his legs.

Proving to his detractors that he could dunk, the 6-foot, 140-pound senior ended the game with one, after watching the clock from midcourt with five seconds left, and timing his strides so that he just beat the buzzer. The final basket atoned for his missed dunk on Edgewood's previous possession.

Throughout it all, Hancock remained ever so calm, his face sweaty but emotionless. He refused to acknowledge in-his-face trash-talking so intense that it drew a technical foul. And he remained silent even during a pre-game attempt at intimidation by two adults who proclaimed that he'd never score 40 points against Aberdeen.

In short, Hancock played and acted more like a grown man instead of the average teen-ager.

Hancock debuted on the varsity in the state playoffs his freshman year, after averaging 25 points on the junior varsity. The Rams lost to Dunbar in the state championship game that year. Hancock averaged eight points his sophomore year and 16.3 points his junior year.

"He has raised his level of play dramatically from last year, and even from the beginning of this year," Edgewood coach Bob Slagle said. "He used to be just a shooter, but he averages four assists, leads the team in steals, drives to the basket and picks up fouls. He shot 132 free throws in the first 11 games."

In 13 games, Hancock has scored 465 points for a 35.8 average. He shoots 43.9 percent (83-for-189) from the field, 37.1 percent (62-for-167) from three-point range and 73.4 percent (113-for-154) at the foul line.

To prove he's not just a shooter, Hancock averages 4.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 4.0 steals.

His stepfather, Jerome Epps, agrees that Hancock has stepped up his game.

"I've watched him grow from 12 years old and his game has changed. He didn't used to play defense. Now, he's developed into a team player," Epps said. "He used to have a bad attitude, but he's matured."

Hancock's maturity and sudden rise to prominence are the fruits of a childhood spent playing basketball for two to three hours per day, and shooting "until my arm hurt." Finally, he is reaping the benefits sown at an early age when he constantly played basketball among older athletes hoping to accelerate his skill development.

"Most of my moves I just picked up by watching other players," Hancock said.

Raised in the Padonia section of Baltimore City, he played in an 8-10 league when he was 5 years old. At 10, he played in a 12-14 division on the same team as Mark Karcher, the former Temple standout.

Hancock performed on Amateur Athletic Union and Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball League teams with groups from Cecil Kirk, Bentalou and Cherry Hill.

"Everyone in the city knows who he is," said his mother, Karen Epps. "All he's ever wanted to do was play basketball."

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