Zach Hankins is a 23 year old 211cm center from Michigan that is playing his rookie season with ERA Basketball Nymburk (Czech Republic-NBL). He began his basketball career at Charlevoix High School. He then played at Ferris St from 2015-2018 playing a total of 103 NCAA 2 games averaging 14.7ppg, 10.6rpg, 1.7apg, 4.1bpg, FGP: 65.2%, FT: 62.1% and 15.1ppg, 9.7rpg, 1.5apg, 3.3bpg, FGP: 63.0%, FT: 71.1%. He played his senior year at Xavier University (NCAA) playing 35 games averaging 10.6ppg, 5.3rpg, 1.1apg, 1.5bpg, FGP: 68.9%, FT: 61.5%. He contributed 14 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks in a 84-80 win over Brose Bamberg. He spoke to germanhoops.com before a basketball champions League game in Bamberg.
Zach thanks for talking to germanhoops.com Welcome to Germany. Is this your first time to Germany? What has been your impression of it?
I went to Berlin with my teammate Deishaun Booker to get our Visa’s. My family is coming over for the Christmas break and we have been talking about making a day trip. Whenever I am in a new country, I try to walk around a little to get some of the culture.
What do you know in general about the country Germany and it’s basketball?
A coach at my high school Matt Stuck played 5 years in Germany. He told me that it is a beautiful country and they have great basketball.
Have you had friends or former teammates playing Germany? Quite a few ex Xavier guys have balled in Germany.
I know some guys that have played in Europe. One guy that I know that played in Germany was Matt Stainbrook.
You won three GLIAC titles as well as a NCAA 2 title and now have joined the greatest basketball organization in the Czech Republic with Nymburk.They won 28 titles since 2004. Is winning titles in your blood?
I attribute my success to hard work. I’m not a great shooter or handle the ball well, but it was hard work that made my identity. My hard work helped me move up and get to Xavier. That then gave me the opportunity with Nymburk.
What kind of experience has it been lacing up the sneakers for this great organization? Do you sense that special atmosphere when you set foot in the Tipsport arena?
It has ben a very different experience playing with this organization. I feel a lot of pride playing for this club. The team is expected to win. Every team is always gunning for you. You need to take pride and responsibility for gaining success.
The club is tearing up the national league like usual despite getting good competition from BK Opava.It is normal for you to blow away teams. The closest game was a 10 point win. Can it sometimes be difficult winning so easily?
It is a funny concept. It is normal to think that once your winning so easily that it comes easy, but it doesn’t. When your winning so much, it is still easy to get complacent. Even if you have talent, you need to work hard. There have been close games where it was very tight. You have to have that mindset to always bring you’re A game. Always to be focused is important for success. This has been a unique experience so far. You need to put in the time and effort for success.
Let’s talk about your teammates. What kind of experience has it been playing with Nymburk legend Petr Benda who is in his 13th season with the team and has 22 titles. How have you profited most from his daily presence on and off the court?
He is a quiet guy. Quieter than I thought he would be. He is always smiling and is focused. He is 37 and very consistent and works very hard to stay in shape. He wants to do everything right. He is always giving advice and likes to go over plays in his head. Often I will go over plays with him. He motivates me to work hard, because I don’t want an older guy to kick my but. He has a great basketball IQ and has a lot of experience. He is the quiet leader that is always there for you.
What kind of an experience has it been playing with American Deishuan Booker. He was a guy like you that started in a lower college level and worked his way up. Do you sense that he has that chip on his shoulder?
He has a chip on his shoulder. He played at many different levels of basketball. He never got the publicity at the lower levels. Because of that you get that chip on your shoulder. When he played exhibition games at the lower levels and played against a big school that played at a higher level, he got that feeling that he should be playing at their level. We have taken a similar path. He is a very hard worker and always wants more. He wants to show that he can stay dedicated for a long time.
Let’s talk about your game. You’re a 211cm center that can do a lot on the court. If you had to compare your game to an NBA player who would best fit the description?
You got two kinds of centers. The pick and pop center and the center that likes to run the floor, get rebounds and get dunks. I don’t think that there are any more Shaq’s out there. I would classify myself as a new age center. I like to mold my game after a Clint Capella. He is obviously more athletic than me. I like to play off the ball, get rebounds and get blocks. I want to be that center that any guard can throw the ball up to or be the guy that can make the stop after the guard gets beat. Capella is so efficient, he probably takes like 3 dribbles a game. He plays hard and runs the floor well. That is how I play.
You’re a guy that can score and rebound the ball at ease. What other strengths does your game incorporate and on what things are you working on the most to keep getting better?
I always incorporate energy into my game and am always focused. I am a player that even when your down 10-0 will hit the opponent back in the mouth get the blocks and get on the guards on the switch. I need to get stronger and have been doing extra lifting to get bigger and have more strength. I want to continue to be as effective as possible in a big body.
You’re a very efficient player as a rookie getting the most out of your minutes. Has your efficiency been something that you have been developing since you were at Ferris State (NCAA2)
I feel that my style of play has allowed me to be efficient. I don’t focus on being efficient, but am just able to finish near the rim at a high percentage. I think that once you have taken so many shots with contact near the basket, you become efficient. Like I have said before, it all is an outcome of hard work.
Your also a very very good shot blocker. With added work how do you feel can you bring your shot blocking to the next level?
I think the key to good shot blocking has to do with learning timing and to read the offensive plays of the opponents. I also feel that my progress of being a shot blocker will continue as I play at a high level like in the Basketball Champions League. I need to continue to focus on my timing and if there is a shot fake or if the player goes up. Important also is not to foul. That is also a big focus. You need to stay straight up and take that hit in the stomach and not bend over and foul. Being a good shot blocker is a big mental thing.
You began your career at Charlevoix High School. In your senior year you broke your foot and played only two games. As a result no NCAA schools had you on the radar. You opted for Ferris State. Was breaking your foot like a blessing in disguise? Had you not broken your foot and played a full season you may never had had the Ferris State experience.
Going to Ferris State was amazing and a huge blessing. If I hadn’t gone there, my path may have been different. I am glad I went there. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t of had those amazing coaches and not had those close friends and gone to Xavier and be able to play in front of 10,000 people. At that the time it was difficult to deal with, but in the end going this path was a perfect plan to develop as a player.
You won 3 GLIAC titles. Was beating Finlay OH the sweetest victory for you?
Findlay was also a good win. It wasn’t a rivalry with Ferris State until my time there. We both became powers in the conference. My sweetest win was winning the NCAA 2 title. I am still buddies with some of the guys I beat.
You had some massive games at Ferris State, but was your 17/22 games against Cedarville your best game for them?
That was a long time ago. I didn’t even realize I had so many rebounds. That was a crazy game. Like I said before my favorite game continues to be that NCAA 2 title.
Can you still relive the final seconds against Northern State when you won the NCAA 2 title? What was most special about the 71-69 win?
The end was crazy. I have watched that game like 10 times in the last year just to relive that amazing moment. I remember that game as if it was yesterday. After I hit a hook shot in the last minute for the 70-69 lead, we got a stop. Then with like 20 seconds left, my teammate hit a free throw for the 71-69 lead. Then on the last play, they went on a high ball screen and I blitzed it and they passed the ball to the shooter and the last three fell short. We won and everybody went crazy. It was an unbelievable moment.
How vital was head coach Andy Bronkema for your early basketball development at Ferris State? What did he instill in your game that helped you make the jump to the NCAA?
I was part of his first recruiting class and he gave me the chance to red shirt and play behind great centers. This opportunity helped me learn mental and physical toughness and how to play the right way. He liked centers having post moves. He also helped me with my foot work. I exploded as a sophomore and he just gave me the freedom to play my game the right way. I give a lot of my success to him as a development coach.
You played your senior year at Xavier University (NCAA) playing 35 games averaging 10.6ppg, 5.3rpg, 1.1apg, 1.5bpg, FGP: 68.9%, FT: 61.5% You had many great games, but was your 12/11/4 assists and 6 blocks in the win over Detroit Mercy one of your completest games in the NCAA?
I would say that this win was an all around good game as a team. We came together as a team and the win was important at the start of the season where everyone was still feeling each other out. I think that my best game at Xavier was at the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden against Creighton. I stuck out in that game making the winning tip in. I was in the zone in that game.
How did head coach Travis Steele give you that last extra push and groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
He treated me like a professional. I knew that I came in for that one year to help the team right away. He gave me the chance to play my game which is to bring energy. He needed me to do what I did best and that also continued to help my game. He gave me a lot of responsibility and it was like being a professional player. I was working more on myself.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Tyrique Jones?
I would say me and he would say him. We are both talented centers. I am more the long finesse center and he is shorter and stockier and more athletic. We had some great battles in practice. We made each other better and smarter.
You played at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament (Pre-NBA Draft) averaging games: 15.3ppg, 7.3rpg, 1.0apg, 1.0bpg. What kind of feedback did you get and did you feel like NBA team took notice?
I was an unseen player at first, because I had played only one year in the NCAA. Some teams did interview me and I made a little impact on some and got a few more NBA workouts than I thought I would get. I was able to put myself in the spot light for a second. It was beneficial for me.
You then joined the Philadelphia 76ers (MGM Resorts NBA Summer League in Las Vegas) and averaged games: 3.7ppg, 2.3rpg, 1.0bpg. What kind of experience was it playing NBA Summer League. What did you gain from it and do you feel like you are very far away from the NBA?
It was a very different experience to play and see how an NBA organization works. The style in the NBA is very much different to college and the style in Europe. It was a good learning experience, but I feel I didn’t get enough of an opportunity to show what I can do. There were other players that the 76ers were investing in. I had one decent game. It was definitely great to learn for next year in the Summer League. I feel like I’m not that far away from the NBA. I need to continue to add strength. I feel that if I was on a G-League roster now that I could contribute with my style. I feel like there is a niche for me on every NBA team
Who was the toughest player that you faced in the NCAA that reached the NBA or is currently playing there?
A very tough guy I played against was Eric Paschall who is on the Golden State Warriors. He is leading all rookies in scoring mainly because of all the injuries that they have and is getting a lot of minutes. He is very talented and I matched up against him when they went small. Another tough match up and the best I played against was Jessie Govan who is playing in Japan now. He is a very good shooter. It was always a fun match up against him.
Luka Doncic is tearing up the NBA at the moment. Is he a top 3 best player in the NBA right now?
Yes for sure. He is so dominant and has a great IQ. He is a great shooter and always plays hard. He is up there. He became a superstar so quickly.
If you had to pick your own personal NBA Rushmore which 4 heads past or present would you chose?
Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Shaq, Blake Griffin
What is your personal opinion of the never ending debate of who is the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan and Lebron James?
Always Lebron. His level of play has never gone down, but continues to go up.
What was the last movie that you saw?
The Edge Of Tomorrow.
Thanks Zach for the chat.