By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
Hansel Atencia, a two-time NAIA All-American at The Master’s University, has spent the last month since graduation at home in Colombia visiting family and friends and working out, awaiting his next basketball challenge. That opportunity arrived this week when Atencia signed with Thor AK Akureyri, a member of Iceland’s top professional men’s basketball league.
Atencia said he was lured by the level of competition in the Dominos League and by the opportunity to earn playing time from the get-go. “I’m excited about the opportunity to show my game right away,” Atencia said.
At Master’s, Atencia averaged career-highs in points (17.5) and assists (5.3) as a senior during the 2018-19 season, earning second-team NAIA All-American honors.
In three seasons, Atencia led Master’s to an 83-14 record and back-to-back Golden State Athletic Conference titles, along with the school’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking.
Along the way, Atencia appreciated the confidence TMU’s coaching staff showed in him, a factor that helped optimize his gifts of tremendous agility and creativity.
“They let me play my game and were always reminding me of all the things they expected from me,” said Atencia, a 5-foot-10 point guard with experience playing for the Colombian senior national team. “They didn’t let me settle for anything less than what I could do.”
Atencia also said Master’s helped him grow as a person.
“I think the main thing I learned is how to be selfless and put God and others first,” he said. “Not only on the court, but off the court too.”
Atencia hopes to help his new team – located in Akureyri, Iceland – build on last season’s Division 1 regular-season championship, a feat that bumped it up to the Dominos League.
“As a point guard, I want to be able to run the team and do whatever the coach asks me to do to the best of my abilities,” Atencia said. “I just want to be able to perform at a high level and help the team win as many games as possible.”
Master’s head coach Kelvin Starr believes Atencia is up to the challenge.
“We’re thrilled for Hansel,” Starr said. “He has worked so hard over the years to get to this point. His ability to run a team and score when needed is going to lend itself to a great professional career.”
Atencia said he is looking forward to moving to a different country, even if it means adjusting to a foreign climate.
“I’ve never been a fan of cold weather so we will see how that goes,” Atencia said. “I heard it’s beautiful over there, so that’s good.”
Akureyri is a town of around 18,000 people in the northern part of the island country. It is located by a scenic fjord and it features winter months that are “freezing, snowy, windy and overcast,” according to WeatherSpark.com.
Atencia will report by September 1 for a 22-game regular season that runs through March. The playoffs carried into April last season.
Atencia transferred to Master’s from NCAA Division 1 Liberty University before his sophomore season in 2016-17. He served in a super-sub role during his first season at TMU before stepping in as a full-time starter as a junior and becoming a two-time All-GSAC selection for the Mustangs. He was named honorable mention NAIA All-American as a junior, and he leaves TMU in ninth place on the school’s all-time assists (425) and steals (142) ledger. He’s 10th all-time in 3-pointers made (144).
Winslow, Lepre start pro careers
Saugus grad Robert Winslow and Valencia grad Anthony Lepre, both TMU alums, began their professional baseball careers this month – with the same team, no less.
Winslow holds a 2.70 ERA with six strikeouts and two walks through 3 1/3 innings of relief for the rookie-level AZL Mariners, based in Peoria, Arizona.
Lepre, who hit 28 home runs for Master’s in the spring, belted a home run on June 18 in his second professional at-bat. He has two hits in his first 14 at-bats and has walked three times.
Elsewhere, Master’s alum Conner Menez struck out 12 batters in 5 1/3 innings for Triple-A Sacramento on June 21, giving him 31 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings since being promoted from Double-A.
The likelihood that Menez appears in the San Francisco Giants’ major league rotation before the end of the year continues to gain momentum. He would be the third Mustang alum to reach the majors, joining Mark Redman and Hart grad Jerry Owens.
For more information on The Master’s University Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com.