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ShanQuan Hemphill returned to Drake for sixth season with NCAA Tournament expectations
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ShanQuan Hemphill returned to Drake for sixth season with NCAA Tournament expectations

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Illinois St Drake Basketball

Drake forward ShanQuan Hemphill drives to the basket ahead of Illinois State guard Antonio Reeves, right, during the Bulldogs' men's basketball game last season in Des Moines, Iowa. 

ShanQuan "Tank" Hemphill went back and forth with his decision about whether or not he wanted to return for a sixth year of college basketball.

It took the Gary native and Michigan City grad all of one night to make up his mind to run it back with Drake and a group of longtime Region teammates.

“I had a conversation with my parents and I knew it was the right decision to come back,” Hemphill said. “Some took longer than others, but it wasn’t a hard decision for me.”

Unbeaten Drake’s 3-point specialist Jonah Jackson excited for homecoming at Valparaiso

The story of the Region Bulldogs has been long told ever since Griffith grads Anthony and Tremell Murphy arrived in Des Moines, Iowa, in the fall of 2018 along with Merrillville graduate D.J. Wilkins. Jonah Jackson (Merrillville) arrived the next year just as Roman Penn (Bishop Noll) became eligible after transferring in from Siena.

Hemphill came to Drake last season after spending two years at Florida Southwestern and another two years at Green Bay.

“There’s a unity within all of us,” Hemphill said. “Every team doesn’t have that chemistry both on and off the court and we have that. The family chemistry vibe is different. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else except with these guys at Drake.”

AARON FERGUSON: Region brand stamped on Drake’s statement win over Loyola

There have been several twists of fate that have kept the quintet of Region teammates together for the 2021-22 season, long after several were supposed to graduate and move on.

While Anthony Murphy played out his two years with the Bulldogs after transferring from Florida Southwestern, Tremell suffered an injury during the 2019-20 season and took a medical redshirt. When the NCAA gave every college basketball player an additional year of eligibility last season, that gave Tremell a chance to spend another year at Drake.

The additional year of eligibility also gave Hemphill a second season with the Bulldogs and it elongated Jackson’s career as well. Wilkins and Penn are also seniors this year, but both can choose to return for another season next year.

Region natives make impact in Drake's first NCAA Tournament win in 50 years

For Hemphill, the decision to return to college was a simple one.

“The No. 1 thing for all of us is that we want to go further than we did last year,” Hemphill said. “We want to get back to the NCAA Tournament. I didn’t really get to play (at full strength) in the tournament, so that gives me more fuel to get back. For the rest of the guys, we all know that we can do it again. Everyone wants to come back and do what we did last year and then do even better.”

The Bulldogs fell short in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament last year, but earned an at-Large bid to the NCAA First Four. Drake knocked off former Valley rival Wichita State on the first night of the tournament before falling to USC, a team that eventually went to the Elite Eight.

Drake’s Region roster heading back to Indiana

The 2021 NCAA Tournament was held entirely in Indiana and it was unlike any iteration of the Big Dance that had ever been held before due to COVID-19 precautions. Still, it was enough to whet Hemphill’s appetite for more.

“March Madness is March Madness,” Hemphill said. “I took it all in. There were signs all over Indianapolis. We won a game in March Madness, period. We worked so hard to get to that point and that’s what we wanted all season. It was the best feeling in the world, and to do it in our home state, it meant so much.”

Drake runs out of gas in second half against USC

The road back to the NCAA Tournament unofficially began Thursday night when the Bulldogs beat Valparaiso 73-66 in the nationally televised conference opener. Both teams have already incurred a handful of nonconference losses, so the idea of either team earning an at-large berth is unlikely.

The Valley begins conference play with one game this week before tipping off conference competition in earnest during the first week of January.

“This game is different from any other we’ve played this year because it’s conference and you want to get off to a good start,” said Hemphill, who scored eight points and grabbed seven rebounds against Valpo. “We’re on national TV and we know more people will be watching. Even if you’re not a fan of Valpo or Drake, you’ll be watching. We’ve all got a fire for this game.”

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Paul Oren has been a correspondent reporter for The Times since 2005. A member of the United States Basketball Writers Association, Paul has spent more than 15 years covering Valparaiso basketball.

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