In Barrancabermeja, Colombia, most kids grow up playing soccer. That’s not the case for The Master’s University men’s basketball starting point guard Hansel Atencia.
“Everyone asks me that all the time,” Atencia said. “Basically, I wanted to be different because everyone plays soccer in Colombia and I didn’t like to watch it and I didn’t really know how to play it. I just wanted to be different.”
Trying to follow in his older sister’s footsteps, Atencia picked up a basketball at the age of five and fell in love with the sport. Moving to Bucaramanga after his sister received a scholarship to play at a local high school, Atencia would tag along to his sister’s practices, wanting to learn and be just like his sister.
Catching the eye of the head coach, Atencia was offered a high school scholarship at the age of seven.
“The coach saw me and offered me a scholarship right there,” Atencia said laughing. “Of course I lied and said I was in high school, but I ended up playing for him throughout my high school career in Colombia so it turned out good.”
Upon graduating high school in Colombia, where the high school system only goes up to the 11th grade, Atencia received a Facebook message from his future coach Pawel Mrozik at Mountain Mission School in Virginia.
“He said ‘We need a point guard and I’ve seen your highlights and want to know if you want to play with us,’” Atencia said.
Filling out the proper documents in order to come to play basketball in the United States, Atencia played one year at Mountain Mission School, averaging 8.5 points, 5.2 assists and 1.7 rebounds per game during his senior season.
Not receiving any Division 1 offers upon graduation, Atencia decided to play AAU Basketball in the hopes that he would attract some attention from Division 1 college scouts.
Garnering an offer from Liberty University in Virginia after the first day, and then Marshall University in West Virginia after the second day, Atencia knew he made the right decision to play AAU ball.
“I was like, ‘Wow, I did it,’” Atencia said. “I was so pumped.”
Taking visits to both schools, Atencia ultimately committed to Liberty University. Playing sparingly during his freshman year, Atencia didn’t feel at ease with his situation at Liberty and at the end of the season was notified that his scholarship had been pulled.
“I’m not going to lie, I kind of knew it was coming because I wasn’t getting any playing time,” Atencia said. “But at the end of the season coach met with me and told me the news.”
Wanting to continue his collegiate basketball career in the states, Atencia received guidance from Liberty’s associate head coach Brad Soucie, who put him in touch with The Master’s University men’s basketball program.
“He brought up Master’s University in California and I was like ‘Yes, let’s do it,’” Atencia said. “I came on the visit and liked the environment and trusted the coaches as soon as I talked to them, plus there are beaches around so I committed and the first season was, well you know.”
MORE: TMU Insider: Mustangs women’s basketball ramps up defense, Atencia surpasses 1,000 points
Two years later, in the midst of his senior season at The Master’s University, Atencia went from not knowing if he had a future in basketball to leading the NAIA No. 2 ranked men’s basketball team in scoring, averaging 18 points, and in assists with four per game.
“I just wanted to do well my first year and I think that the coaches here trusted me and I missed that from Liberty,” Atencia said. “Now that I’m here at Master’s I feel the trust and the confidence in my play and that’s why I came to Master’s. Trust.”
His play has paid dividends for the men’s basketball team as Atencia eclipsed the 1,000-point mark Saturday with a 19-point performance against San Diego Christian University.
“When I stepped foot on campus, I knew I wanted to leave my mark at Master’s. I think that was a good way to start,” Atencia said. “Just to be a part of those athletes that have achieved such accomplishments. I’m always going to be there now and I just want people to remember me for doing my best.”
Playing with the Colombian National team for the past three summers, Atencia’s knowledge and dedication to the sport has grown immensely and it showed as he led the national team to its first-ever silver medal finish at the Central American games in Barranquilla, Colombia.
Setting the bar high for all Colombian players, Atencia has made a name for himself by never giving up and taking a road less traveled.
“I look back at my time at Liberty and I didn’t understand why I didn’t play there, but God brought me here and brought me here for a reason,” Atencia said. “I’m so thankful that I’m here with my guys and teammates and coaches, it’s great to see how God works.”