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Hancock College basketball players continue to sign with four-year schools
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Hancock College basketball players continue to sign with four-year schools

Xavier Cooper will follow in the footsteps of former fellow Hancock College basketball players Shane Carney and Matt Willkomm and play his next basketball at Arizona Christian University.

Former Hancock point guard Grant Johnson and shooting guard Mike Mensah are also continuing their playing careers at the four-year level, joining former teammates Mayowa Akinsanya, DJ Searcy and Kyle Harding who have all signed with four-year schools.

Johnson signed to play for Division II program Holy Names in Oakland.

Mensah and Akinsanya have both signed with Maryland Eastern Shore. Searcy signed with Fresno Pacific and Kyle Harding joined Division I program Fresno State. Arroyo Grande High School grad Will Silmon, who was a role player for the Bulldogs the last two seasons, will continue his academic career at Cal State Fullerton.

Cooper signed with Arizona Christian, which has a longtime Hancock connection, on Friday. 

"The culture just spoke to me," Cooper said of his decision to go with Phoenix-based Arizona Christian during a Zoom signing session at Hancock Friday morning.

Cooper is a Denver, Colorado, native. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Cooper seemed upbeat about the prospect of getting into the swing of the Arizona Christian program.

"I'm from Denver, and with the gym usage there ... they've hardly been affected by the virus at all," Cooper said during the signing session.

"I'm looking forward to getting out (to Arizona Christian) early and working out."

Johnson, a Bakersfield native, averaged 8.4 points, two assists and two rebounds a game as the Bulldogs' point guard last season. 

Johnson intends to study to become a teacher after his time at Holy Names, which is based in Oakland.

"I come from a family of teachers, so it's kind of been instilled in me. From my grandma being a principal, to my dad working at schools and school districts," Johnson said during his Zoom signing in May. "My mom is a teacher. I've always been around the classroom and love to help for kids. I realize I can't only teach the kids, but I can also learn from them."

Johnson worked at the Hancock College Children's Center during his Bulldog days.

Mensah graduated from Hancock with a liberal arts degree. Maryland Eastern Shore is a Division I program. 

"It makes this whole process a lot easier, having someone I consider like a brother there with me to go through it," Mensah said of playing for Eastern Shore along with former Hancock teammate Akinsanya. "It's humbling to go to a place like this and it's an opportunity not a lot of people get." 

Last month, the NCAA gave athletes permission to resume voluntary activities Monday. Team workouts had been banned since March, when the organization cancelled the rest of its 2020 spring season because of the pandemic.

Cooper was the leading rebounder for a Hancock squad that went 23-7 and made it to the second round of the Southern Cal regional of the California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) Playoffs in 2020.

The 6-foot-3 Cooper averaged 7.6 rebounds a game for the Bulldogs. He also averaged 8.1 points a game.

Cooper said during the Zoom session that Arizona Christian plays at a fast pace he's comfortable with. A quick tempo has been a hallmark of veteran Hancock coach Tyson Aye's teams.

Carney and Willkomm both thrived at Arizona Christian. Carney averaged 16.6 points and 4.6 assists a game his junior season there. His senior year, he was named an NAIA Honorable Mention All-American.

Willkomm started 57 games for the Firehawks over two seasons from 2016-17 and 2017-18. Willkomm led the Firehawks with 16.5 points per game as a senior. He shot 46 percent from the field and averaged 3.1 rebounds and nearly 3 assists per game that season.

The Firehawks went 25-8, before the pandemic cancelled the rest of their campaign, last season. 

At the Zoom session, Cooper said, "I spent two years at Hancock, and I really enjoyed my time. I loved it out here.

"I love all the people, and it's out of love for everybody that I'm going to spend the next two years."

During the Zoom session, Aye said, "Xavier's just in a long line of guys in our program that have worked so hard.

"He's been a great teammate. He worked really hard during the off-season and came back just a different person mentally and physically."

Aye said, "This year, all seven guys we recruited (whose eligibility at Hancock is done) are going to transfer to four-year schools.

"Last year, all eight we recruited transferred. So, over the last two years, all 15 guys we've recruited (during that time) have transferred to four-year schools."