Hankerson is next up for the Huskies

By Khobi Price

During the Jan. 22 news conference following men’s basketball’s 76-74 upset over then No. 14 ranked University of Buffalo, junior guard Eugene German pointed and smiled while looking toward first-year guard Trendon Hankerson.  

Hankerson was answering questions from the media after making the biggest play of his collegiate career just six games into his first season with NIU.

With 6.6 seconds left in the game, the Novi, Michigan-native dribbled the ball up the floor and evaded a trap by spinning toward the middle of the court.

Hankerson whipped the ball to junior forward Noah McCarty for the go-ahead layup against the Bulls, giving NIU its first victory over a ranked opponent in over 45 years.

{{tncms-inline account=”#MACtion” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">NOAH MCCARTY GAME WINNER!!!!<a href="https://twitter.com/GoHuskiesMBB?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@GoHuskiesMBB</a> upsets #14 Buffalo in DeKalb!<a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/MACtion?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#MACtion</a> <a href="https://t.co/hx3WeajxDd">pic.twitter.com/hx3WeajxDd</a></p>— #MACtion (@MACSports) <a href="https://twitter.com/MACSports/status/1087911312196358144?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">January 23, 2019</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/MACSports/status/1087911312196358144″ type=”twitter”}}

Head Coach Mark Montgomery praised Hankerson for his calmness after the victory. Hankerson said he wasn’t surprised by the poise he had during one of the biggest moments of the game.

Related: Huskies shock no 14 ranked Buffalo

“The composure is kind of something I’ve had growing up and playing in my experiences,” Hankerson said during the news conference. “I’ve been in big games before. It’s really no different outside of [when] we’re on the court playing basketball against a tough opponent.”

Hankerson said his first memories playing basketball go back to when he was 7 years old.

Born to former Saginaw Valley State University collegiate athletes, Kevin Hankerson who played basketball and Patricia who played volleyball, and the younger brother of University of Wisconsin–Green Bay junior guard Kameron Hankerson, Trendon has athletic excellence ingrained in his DNA.

As former collegiate athletes, Trendon’s parents pushed him and his brother to be athletes. Trendon said they knew when and how to push them and could tell when they weren’t doing their best.

Trendon said he didn’t always carry the same calm demeanor he has on the court. He said he was more demonstrative when he was younger.

Learning how to inject positivity into his team is something Trendon developed after the summer between his eighth and ninth grade while playing AAU basketball.

“One game, I got a technical foul because I did something like traveled, and I looked at the referees,” Trendon said. “I got a technical, and my dad just looked at me. After the game he told me ‘you have to stop being so aggressive when you’re talking to the referees. When you’re talking to your teammates, you have to be more assertive, and you have to bring positive energy; that way it’s not looking like you’re always yelling at them instead of trying to get them constructive criticism.’ Ever since that moment I really started to think about it more and bring more positive energy.”

The lesson Trendon received heading into his first year in high school helped him have a successful basketball career.

He led Novi High School to an 18-7 record and a conference championship during his junior campaign in 2016-17 behind averages of 12.5 points, 6.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game.

Trendon received 2018 Michigan AP and Detroit News Class A All-State Honorable Mention honors following, averaging 13.9 points per game during his senior year and leading the Wildcats to the Class A state semifinals.

Montgomery said Trendon’s basketball pedigree and IQ are what caught his attention.

“He’s coming from a winning program,” Montgomery said. “He took his team to the Final Four in Class A, which is the big championship school in Michigan. He has good family genes; his brother plays at Green Bay, [and] his dad played at Saginaw Valley State in Michigan.”

While growing up with a family of athletes gave him tools to help him become a smarter and more aware basketball player, Trendon said the training he did between his first year and sophomore year of high school was instrumental to his growth.

He had the goal of playing on the varsity team during his second season at Novi so he could play with Kameron. Every day during the summer of 2015, he would run around his neighborhood in the morning, which is about a mile, and practice basketball drills afterwards.

Trendon would drive to a facility about an hour away from his house after completing his drills and do more training there. He would finish the day with basketball practice with his AAU team.

“It helped me because when you’re fatigued and you go through long days like that and then you practice, you start to see the fatigue, and that’s when you really start to correct most of your errors,” Trendon said. “It helps you play with fatigue a little bit better. It makes you a little bit more aware of what you’re doing on the court because it’s not easy for you.”

The awareness Trendon displayed in high school has carried over onto the collegiate level, and not just for game-clinching assists with the defense pressuring him, but on the less glamorous end of the floor.

Montgomery said Trendon’s defensive acumen, especially off the ball, is one of the reasons he took the red shirt off him for the 2018-19 season.

Trendon leads the Huskies in defensive box plus/minus, which is a box score estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions a player contributed above a league-average player translated to an average team, with 3.5 points.

Off the ball, he’s a disruptor with the keen ability to break up plays and turn NIU’s defense into offense.

“I’m supposed to be in help side defense and I see my man spotting up as I turn my head right there,” Trendon said. “I see him starting to drive because I know he’s a heavy driver because we go through the scouting report. I just reached because I know the ball was wide open. As I’m coming down the court, I see he’s slightly focused on me, but a little more focused on [senior guard] Dante [Thorpe] and I can see that I can get the pass off so he can make the lay-up. [I] just tried to make a smart play so my teammate could score.”

Trendon also leads NIU in block percentage, an estimate of the percentage of two-point field goal attempts blocked by the player while he’s on the floor, with 3.8 percent.

He’s second on the team in steal percentage, an estimate of the percentage of opponent possessions that end with the steal by the player while he was on the floor, and first among all players who have played at least 200 minutes with 2.3 percent.

“There, he just got his hands in the passing lane and he’s active,” Montgomery said. “He’s reading the passers eyes. That’s a good feel. Some things are a good feel for him.”

Before the season started, German said Trendon was “up next”. The two worked out together during the offseason.

To German, being up next means becoming one of the best guards in the league and Trendon showcasing his talents to the fullest.

“[German] just sees [Trendon] has ‘it’,” Montgomery said. “He has the work ethic, he plays hard and he has a good feel for the game. He just wants to be a very good player. He’s going to keeping pushing himself to be the best.”