Oct. 30, 2013
Charles Hankerson Jr. never thought it could happen.
He and Cowboy teammate Jerron Granberry lived five minutes apart as children down in Florida -- childhood friends, high school basketball teammates and stars of the team.
Their collegiate basketball careers took them to far different places. Hankerson went to Alabama. Granberry stayed in Florida. Yet their stars aligned and now they have a year together as collegiate teammates at Wyoming.
"Junior" and Jerron grew up together in Miami and starred at Coral Reef High School. Hankerson received a scholarship to the University of Alabama and Granberry to the University of North Florida. Four years later here they are, teammates again, and in Laramie, Wyo., of all places. For one collegiate season, they are Cowboys together. That's the beauty of college athletics.
Hankerson has been attending classes at UW and around the basketball program for the past year as a redshirt after transferring from Alabama in the summer of 2012. He enters tomorrow night's opening exhibition game (7 p.m. vs. CU-Colorado Springs) as a redshirt junior. Granberry graduated from North Florida last May. However, last season he was excused from the Osprey team after five games of his senior year to be with his family following the death of his father. He was granted a hardship waiver, and received an extra season of eligibility. For a number of reasons, not the least of which was the fact his best friend was here, he chose Wyoming to play and pursue a master's degree.
Both could play major roles for the Cowboys during the 2013-14 season.
"I never dreamed it could happen," Hankerson says. "When this all came down, and he received the hardship, I wanted him to come here in the worst way. But I knew he was going through tough times. Before I made any mention of him coming to Wyoming, I wanted to make sure he was mentally okay. I just wanted him to be happy."
"When my dad died, it was such a difficult time, I just wasn't sure what I was going to do," Granberry says. "What I did know was that I had to be with my family (three brothers and two sisters), and I had to be there for my mom. I wasn't going to do anything until I felt the time was right. When I felt it was time, I talked to Charles about Wyoming. The rest is history."
As an aside, Granberry has been looking forward to this week for some time now. His mother, LaFreida, is coming to Laramie tomorrow to see her son wear the Brown and Gold in the Arena-Auditorium. "She is the biggest influence in my life, and I'm so excited to have her here," he says.
During their last high school season together, Coral Reef won the state championship in a huge upset. Granberry was a senior and Hankerson was a junior. "It was a storybook ending, friends helping their underdog high school team to an upset win in the state championship," says Hankerson. "Thought that was it. Thought that would be our legacy together."
"We could run over to each other's house as childhood friends," Granberry says. "We were very competitive, no question, in whatever it was. Whether on the court or in the weight room. Although I quit competing with Junior in the weight room because he's a whole lot stronger than I am." Their competitiveness is in the genes. Their fathers, Leslie and Charles Sr. were coaches, and coached against each other for a number of years. They would eventually become very close friends as well, and certainly Charles Sr. misses his friend.
Granberry and Hankerson were high school "stars" on their state championship team. Granberry averaged 20 points per game as a senior, while Hankerson averaged 21 as a junior. Hankerson would average 31 a game the following year as a senior, and was highly sought after. Together they brought Coral Reef from out of nowhere to the title. In fact, when Granberry was a freshman the Reef won four games, then 14 his sophomore year, 20 his junior year and 27 his final season.
Granberry was an immediate contributor at North Florida. During the 2011-12 season he was the second-leading scorer for the Osprey. He actually played in Laramie during the 2010 season, and helped the Osprey beat the Cowboys 76-60. One of his assistant coaches there was current Cowboy assistant Jeremy Shyatt.
"Having Charles here was a big factor in my decision," Granberry says. "But I thought Wyoming had a lot going for it. I also knew Jeremy and my coach at North Florida (Matt Driscoll) had been an assistant at Wyoming. I had other schools talking to me, but because of Charles and the fact I knew Jeremy made me feel comfortable here. There have been adjustments, like weather and distance, but my teammates and the coaching staff have made it a great place for me. I think I've made the transition school-wise and basketball-wise.
"It definitely has been eye-opening, but I really like it here. It has taken me on a journey in my life I would have never experienced. It's different, and I think we all should have different experiences in our lives. I really like it here."
Hankerson was the 26th-ranked shooting guard prospect in the nation out of high school. He was highly recruited, and finally chose Alabama. He spent two seasons there and experienced an NCAA Tournament appearance and the finals of the NIT. But playing behind an All-American, he could see there wasn't going to be enough playing time for him. He decided to transfer.
Delightful and articulate, both Granberry and Hankerson spend a lot of their off hours together. "Obviously we spend a lot of time when we are away from school and basketball, Hankerson says. "We work out together. We take extra shots together. We've had a lifelong bond. It's great to know that he's there for me and I'm there for him."
For both, the adjustment to the "Shyatt Way" has been tough at times. "You have to understand that in the past, especially in high school, we were both offensive-minded basketball players," Granberry says. "We didn't work on the defensive end all that much. That's been an adjustment. If you don't play defense at Wyoming, you don't play. Dnd of story."
Beyond basketball, their respective futures are wide open. Both have chosen communications as their course of study. Granberry is working on his master's and Hankerson on his bachelor's. "I do know this," Hankerson says, "I want my children to receive the same education and athletic experience I have. I want them to understand how fragile it is. I want them to experience the ups and downs involved in life. Not many things teach you about life much better than athletics."
It's been quite a road for these two long-time friends but a good journey for them...and Wyoming.
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