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BUDDING AMERICAN BOX STAR JACK HANNAH RE-SIGNS WITH LAS VEGAS

Jack Hannah is part Frank Sinatra, part David Copperfield, and 100% Las Vegas Desert Dog.

Last week, the Desert Dogs signed Hannah, one of the league’s top rookies during the 2022-23 season, to two-year deal.

Hannah was the only rookie in the NLL last season to finish the regular season with 30+ goals and 30+ assists – he was also one of only a few rookie forwards with 60+ loose ball recoveries. His efforts earned him the honor of being named a finalist for the NLL Rookie of the Year Award.

He achieved this, and more, through his physical, creative and performative style on the floor, and never shied away from an encore. Yet, believe it or not, despite all of Hannah’s success over the past NLL season, the 24-year-old right-hander has very shallow roots in box lacrosse.

As a Cincinnati, Ohio-born and Milford, Ohio-native, Hannah thrived as a multi-sport (he has played field lacrosse, football and basketball) athlete in his youth. However, it wasn’t until 2017, during a USBOXLA U-18 tour to British Columbia, that Hannah made his true box lacrosse debut.

Hannah would later learn some more box skills playing for legendary former head coach Bill Tierney, who has often exclaimed that young lacrosse players should learn box skill, and Assistant Coach Matt Brown (a former NLL player) at the University of Denver. Hannah began to emerge as a collegiate star during his time in Denver, and, by the time he graduated he had been named the Pioneers’ captain, earned All-American honors, and was a Tewaaraton Award nominee – this award is given to the most outstanding men’s and women’s collegiate lacrosse player in the US.

Hannah would continue to dabble in the box game while playing in the Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League (OCBLL). As a member of the Ohio Rivermen in 2019, Hannah would not only earn MVP honors, but his team also won the National Collegiate Box Series championship and later ranked #1 in USBOXLAs inaugural Best in Box: NCBS Top 40.

It was a special honor for Hannah to play in the NCBS and represent his state at this level. He loves Ohio and he’s very proud of where he’s from. Ohio is not a traditional lacrosse hot bed, but it is one of the many areas across the United States where the game is picking up in popularity. Hannah noted that in the 10 years from his high school playing days in Milford to today, the game’s reach has extended exponentially.

“I love Ohio, and I think it’s funny how people think Ohio sucks,” Hannah said. “People always like talking down on Ohio, but I love Ohio, I love it so much. I love the kids, I love the culture of everything, I love the way people work hard. The strides that lacrosse has made in Ohio since my freshman year of high school to now the level of competition that these kids are playing at, the amount of kids that are going to play in college, the amount of resources they have to go play different forms of lacrosse (you can play box or you can play field), the game is growing rapidly.”

As much as playing in Ohio was an incredible experience for the home-state product, even that stint of championship experience and leadership couldn’t fully prepare Hannah for what he was soon going to experience in the NLL.

Hannah has kept up his connection with USBOXLA and even spent time this summer going back to British Columbia coaching at clinics alongside 2009 NLL Hall of Fame inductee, Dallas Eliuk, this summer.

It just so happens that the 2019 NCBS tournament that Hannah won with the Rivermen will begin its 2023 tournament this weekend in Utica, New York.

In the 2021 NLL Entry Draft, he was selected 31st overall by the Panther City Lacrosse Club. He didn’t play a game for PCLC, and instead was put in a situation where he could grab some more box in the NCBS – he scored 30 points (15 goals and 15 assists) in five games played.

The following year he would be picked up by the Desert Dogs in the 2022 Expansion Draft as the team’s 10th overall selection. Hannah made an immediate impression on Desert Dogs head coach Shawn Williams and his staff the moment he stepped on the floor for his first practice.

“Right from the first practice, he was impressive,” Williams said. “His attributes are impressive. With his size, physicality, speed and agility, then you add in his phenomenal stick skills, creativity and balance as well, he’s got that bug. He’s definitely a special person that way.”

Hannah has excelled at every level of his lacrosse career in large part to his athleticism (for his 6’1”, 205 lbs frame) and his dedication to the craft, but it is his fierce competitive nature that has kept Hannah at a distance from failure.

For a younger kid in the league, with minimal amounts of box experience, especially compared to many of his competitors, Coach Williams was impressed by Hannah’s willingness to go toe-to-toe with some of the toughest men in the league.

“He really embraced the physicality – he loved it,” Williams said. “He loved taking on the other team’s best defenders and having individual battles with certain guys. He had some really great one-on-one scenarios with some of the best guys in the league, and he did well.”

Hannah explained that that’s the way he learned to play the game – with grit and a fighting spirit. When you’re an up-and-comer like Hannah battling against the likes of tough, imposing NLL giants like Brodie Merrill, Kyle Rubisch, Mike Messenger, Brett Mydske, Robert Hope and many others, scoring goals isn’t going to be a cake walk – it’s going to hurt.

The fact that Hannah was continuously willing to step up to the challenge and take the punishment, he believes, earned many defenders respect.

“I don’t back down from anybody,” Hannah said. “You try and give a fighting chance every time you can. Early on, that definitely got me beat up a bit. I was pushing and shoving and guys wanted to show me what the NLL was like. I also think it might have earned me a little bit of respect because I just kept my mouth shut and kept taking a beating and keep playing.”

By the end of the season, Hannah likely ended up with as many bumps and bruises as he did points (64). He finished 2nd on the team in points, only behind Rob Hellyer’s 93 points, and he finished tied with Zack Greer in goals scored – they both ended the year with 33 goals.

“It was a very big learning experience for me,” Hannah said. “I don’t think there was one game where I didn’t take something away from it. There were so many new things, and it was extremely fun in that sense. After playing the outdoor game my whole life, there’s so much to learn in the box game. I’m just going to try and keep building on it and keep picking up the pieces as I go.”

To be near the top of the team’s scoring charts alongside long time NLL players like Hellyer and Greer was a surreal full circle moment for Hannah, who remembers seeing his now teammates play the game as he was growing up.

“A guy like Zack Greer is someone I watched growing up. He could shoot the ball in the outdoor game – I used to watch him playing at Duke,” Hannah said. “He’s a legend of the game. Guys like him and Hellyer, honestly there’s a whole group of guys – [Travis] Cornwall knows a whole bunch about the history of the game and everything… You just try and pick apart their games. I try and ask as many questions – I think I was being annoying asking so many questions. Being around these guys, it’s one of those experiences that you don’t realize how cool it is until you’re doing it.”

Hannah is not going to let you outwork him, and he also won’t let you out-study him either. As part of his competitive nature, he is constantly trying to learn and often plays the role of a sponge quite well. Even if he wasn’t playing alongside a handful of talented, respected veterans who could help teach him the game, he would still find many other ways to improve his box game.

Now that the Desert Dogs have added more veteran pieces this week such as Adrian Sorichetti and Casey Jackson, he has even more brains to pick. A handful of the guys that he will now be teammates with will have either been around the league for longer than Hannah has been playing box lacrosse or they will have won NLL championships or competed in NLL Finals. The experience to play with these men will be invaluable. 

“If you look at Jack, he’s a guy that has a lot of special talents, but he also wants to pick things up from other guys on different types of shots, or what have you,” Williams said. “He’s going to be working with [veteran] guys – they’re extra coaches on the floor. A lot of these guys [like Jack] that are newer to the box game, it’s a lot different for them; there’s a lot more nuances for him to figure out.”

This new two-year deal gives Hannah some reassurance that he’s been making the strides that he’s needed to be a standout in the NLL. To put into perspective Hannah’s scoring ability in his rookie season, his 33 goals were more than Austin Staats had in his rookie year in the 2018-19 season and were as many goals as Tom Schrieber had in his 2016-17 rookie season.

So, if this is just the beginning for Hannah, where do we see his game develop over the next two seasons? Having done plenty of post-season analysis of his play during the team’s 5-13 year, Hannah has already pinpointed areas in which he plans to get better in the coming years.

“I think my off-ball game has definitely been a struggle for me,” Hannah said. “Not in a sense that it’s really hard, it’s just finding that balance of still being an effective player without having the ball in my stick. That’s definitely something that I’ve lacked a little in my outdoor game, but the box game really helped me develop it a lot more – finding those gaps in the middle and learning how to get open in the middle.”

Over the many years (and places) that Hannah has played lacrosse, and played it at a very high level, he has started to become a household name, I can bet you that’s surely the case in Ohio households.

He may not have the same name recognition as Sinatra or Copperfield, but as long as he keeps producing bigger and better numbers in the NLL and continues to do so surrounded by the bright lights on the big stage in Las Vegas, he might get there… At least in NLL circles, in the not so distant future.

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