By Michelle R. Martinelli
Video By Hannah Gebresilassie
INDIANAPOLIS — As a 9-year-old girl standing on an empty court at the Big Ten Tournament, Jordan Hankins was in awe of how huge it looked. Although she wasn’t intimidated and took advantage of being able to shoot around before the teams and their fans showed up, she couldn’t imagine playing a real game on such a big stage.
But the freshman guard evolved from an eager child dunking on a lowered net before games to drilling 3-pointers in the Big Ten Women’s Basketball Tournament for the Northwestern.
An Indianapolis native, Hankins returned to her hometown for just the second time since September to compete in her first conference tournament this week.
“I’m really excited,” Hankins said. “I remember going down there all the time when [Indianapolis] hosted it as a kid — going down on the floor and participating in the festivities and watching. But now, it’s going to be a great experience [since] it’s my turn to be on the floor.”
Hankins made the most of it Wednesday. She hit two 3-pointers in 66 seconds at the end of the second quarter, igniting her team’s energy going into halftime during the No. 12-seed Wildcats’ 76-72 overtime win against No. 13-seed Wisconsin on Wednesday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Hankins scored eight points and grabbed four rebounds in her 15 minutes of playing time. In comparison, she averages three points per game and one rebound in about nine minutes on the season.
“Jordan’s two 3s really gave us a big lift in the first half when we were struggling to score,” coach Joe McKeown said.
It’s always comforting for players when they travel home for a basketball game or tournament and play in front of their families and friends, McKeown said. They get home sick all the time, he added, but it’s fun to come home and show everyone what they’ve learned.
It also was a thrill for her family. Remembering his young daughter’s determination to improve while shooting layups before tournament games, Hankins’ father Walter said he isn’t surprised his daughter is playing for a Big Ten team.
“Jordan was always a competitor,” Walter said. “I can tell you that in whatever she did, she always wanted to win.”
Hankins’ future role as a Wildcat is up to her, McKeown said. She has the talent to eventually take over as the starting point guard when junior Ashley Deary graduates. But she’ll have to maintain her “gym rat” mentality and earn the position.
Hankins said she wants to be a hometown role model for her younger brother and former high school teammates and show them how her hard work led to her budding success in college basketball.
“Now that I’m here and knowing that [I’m playing in the tournament], it reassures me that I am improving,” Hankins said. “Years ago, I never thought I’d be right here, and now I am.”