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Wyoming vs. New Mexico State Men's Basketball

Wyoming’s Charles Hankerson Jr. shoots a free throw in the Cowboys’ game against New Mexico State on Nov. 29, 2014, at the Arena-Auditorium in Laramie.

Charles Hankerson Jr. watched as his former Wyoming classmates and teammates received opportunities to play professional basketball.

First, Derek Cooke Jr. signed with Rethymno Aegean Basketball Club of the Greek Basketball League. (He later returned stateside to play for the Bakersfield Jam of the NBA Development League.)

The next day, Larry Nance Jr. became the first UW player selected in the NBA Draft since 1995, going 27th overall to the Los Angeles Lakers.

A month later, Riley Grabau signed with the Glasgow Rocks of the British Basketball League.

For nearly seven months, Hankerson’s phone didn’t ring. But he never felt an ounce of jealousy.

“They’re such incredible guys to where I couldn’t have nothing but the utmost happiness for them,” Hankerson said. “That definitely would’ve been selfish on my behalf to think like that.”

Finally, the call he had been waiting on for oh-so-long came Sunday.

He received an offer from the Dundgovi Hawks of the Mongolian National Basketball Association. He quickly accepted, signing his first professional contract on Monday.

Hankerson leaves for Mongolia on Thursday morning and will join his new team immediately.

“It has been a whirlwind, man,” Hankerson said. “Just a ton of emotions. But the main thing is it’s such a humbling experience. Thankfulness is the main feeling. It’s like, I feel so thankful and then validation that dreams really do come true, and if you work hard success can come.”

Hankerson, a 6-foot-4 guard from Miami, began his college career with two seasons at Alabama. As a sophomore in 2010-11, he made five starts and 26 appearances for the Crimson Tide, which advanced to the NIT championship game. The following year, he appeared in 30 games as Alabama reached the NCAA tournament.

After his sophomore season, Hankerson transferred to Wyoming, where he sat out in 2012-13 to satisfy NCAA rules. He served as the team’s top reserve guard as a junior before assuming a starting role as a senior.

In 2014-15, he started 34 of 35 games and averaged 6.9 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists to help the Cowboys win their first Mountain West tournament title and reach the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.

“It’s just a blessing,” Hankerson said of his pro contract. “It’s showed that if you stay persistent and you stay focused, stay positive and believe in yourself that you can do it.”

Hankerson took the summer off from basketball to evaluate his post-college options. Eventually he decided that the sport was his “calling.”

In late summer, he moved to Birmingham, Alabama, where he worked on his game through the end the year.

In mid-January, he joined the Indianapolis Diesels of the Premier Basketball League, a minor-league organization.

“It was a great experience for sure. A lot happened while I was out there,” Hankerson said. “That’s where I signed my agent.”

Barely a month later, his whirlwind experience culminated in a professional contract and a plane ticket to Mongolia.

“This situation is definitely not where I want to end up, but it’s definitely a tremendous steppingstone for me and starting spot,” Hankerson said.

Admittedly, he doesn’t know much about his team, or Mongolia for that matter.

But one thing is clear:

“I know that they want me, and I really feel like that’s the most important part right there,” Hankerson said. “I’m excited to go to a completely new environment and find out everything that the team has to offer.”

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Follow Wyoming athletics beat writer Ryan Holmgren on Twitter @ryanholmgren

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Holmgren covers University of Wyoming athletics. In both 2015 and 2016, the Associated Press Sports Editors named him one of the top 10 beat writers in the country in the under-30,000 circulation category.

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