DETROIT - Google the phrase "Tyler Hansbrough sucks." You'll get seven pages of results, including a YouTube clip with that very title. The ever-intuitive Google also will suggest you try Tyler Hansbrough overrated, which nets 37 pages of results.
Among Hansbrough's critics' complaints: He isn't athletic. He'll make a lousy pro. When he flashes that bug-eyed, slack-jawed, "Who, me?" look at the refs every time they whistle him for a foul, he looks like Beaker from The Muppets.
Here's another one for the list. He has no rhythm. None whatsoever. When the North Carolina band struck up Jump Around early Tuesday morning and Tar Heels guard Danny Green broke it down one last time, Hansbrough stood on the periphery of a circle of dancing teammates and did a little white-guy shuffle that looked more like a mild seizure than a celebratory groove.
Guess what? He doesn't care. You can criticize his jumper. You can compare him to a Jim Henson creation. You can even rip his dancing. He has that net he wore as a necklace early Tuesday, and that's all that matters. "They ain't getting that net," Hansbrough said. "They can try."
Though he tried his best for four seasons to block them out, the ACC's all-time leading scorer couldn't help but hear his critics. Monday, as he scored 18 and grabbed seven rebounds to help the Tar Heels to an 89-72 win against Michigan State (RECAP | BOX), Hansbrough silenced them. "A lot of people doubted me this year," Hansbrough said. "But people can say whatever they want. I'm part of something special that some people never experience in their lives."
That something special began in 2005, when Hansbrough, Green, Bobby Frasor, Marcus Ginyard and Mike Copeland arrived in the wake of the departures of Sean May, Raymond Felton and the other key members of North Carolina's fourth national-championship team. The first time he met Hansbrough, the scruffy high-schooler Copeland knew he was dealing with a different cat. During his first conversation with Green, Green told Copeland they needed to make 2005 the best class ever. Frasor and Copeland discussed basically the same thing. What were Hansbrough's first words to his new teammate? "Mike," he said, "you need a shave."
Copeland's suspicions were confirmed his freshman year when the players took a dip in the pool at the Dean Smith Center. Hansbrough climbed to the highest diving platform and did a belly flop. But in the weight room and on the practice court, Copeland saw something else. "He's the most dedicated player I've ever been around. Ever. He does everything he's supposed to do. Everything."
That's why when Hansbrough decided to return for his senior season, the Tar Heels' other potential pros followed him back to Chapel Hill. And while point guard Ty Lawson probably was North Carolina's most talented player, Hansbrough was the Tar Heels' heart and soul. That's why his teammates smiled so wide when they saw him climb that ladder, snip that net and punch the sky with a pair of gold-plated scissors. "He's going out the right way," forward Deon Thompson said. "For all the things he's accomplished in his career, this was the only thing missing. Now, he's a legend."
When Carolina coach Roy Williams inserted his walk-ons with 1:03 remaining, Hansbrough walked off the court and wrapped his coach in a bear hug. Williams will cherish that hug forever. "I earn a good salary, but if you put $10 million in that pile right there, and say, Roy, you can have that $10 million, but if you take it, you'll forget that feeling you had when that big rascal came over and hugged you," Williams said, "you guys can split that $10 million, because I wouldn't give $10 million for the feeling that I had at that moment."
So go ahead, rip Hansbrough. Prank call him, even. He's gotten plenty of those. At this point, he'd welcome a few more. "When they prank call me, I'll just leave it at that," Hansbrough said. "I'll be like, 'I'm a national champion.'"
As the celebration raged, Hansbrough kept uttering the phrase "national champion," as if he couldn't believe his dream had finally come true. But the net around his neck and the smile on his face provided plenty of proof. The Hansbrough haters can't touch him now.
"Say what you want," Hansbrough said. "I'm a national champion. Who can say they're a national champion? I can. That's right."