My Sportsman: Tyler Hansbrough
That was not entirely true.
Sure, Hansbrough wanted to win a title, but when he announced his decision to return to school in April 2008, three of his teammates --
And yet, Hansbrough decided to come back anyway. It wasn't because he wanted to improve his draft status; he knew full well he was not going to magically alchemize into a top-three pick. Instead, he came back for the most basic and rare of reasons: He loved college.
Hansbrough was so excited that when North Carolina coach
He did so while sublimating his individual glory for the sake of the team. Hansbrough did not win national player of the year (that went to Oklahoma's
It should also be noted that the summer of '08 was the third time Hansbrough turned down the chance to be a first-round pick. After he had become the first freshman to lead North Carolina in both points and rebounds, Williams called a few NBA general managers and discovered that Hansbrough would be picked between 14th and 24th in the draft. Hansbrough turned that opportunity down, saying in November 2006, "I really like this place, and I'd like to see how far we can go in the tournament." Following his sophomore and junior years, Hansbrough was projected to go in the very same range. Sure enough, when he finally did reach the draft he was chosen 13th by the Indiana Pacers.
Hansbrough understood better than anybody that even though he was a man's man on the court, there were many ways in which he needed to grow up -- and do it slowly. He came to Chapel Hill as a diffident, unsophisticated, pickup-driving kid from the intimate town of Poplar Bluff, Mo. (pop. 16,921), a place where, as Tyler put it, "everybody knows what's going on with everybody else." When he started college, he had never used e-mail. The trainer had to show him how to eat sushi. When it came to dealing with the press his first couple of years, Hansbrough would stare into the klieg lights looking pale and bug-eyed, rarely mumbling more than a few words. Said his classmate and roommate
At every turn, he beguiled Williams with his focus and effort. Hansbrough is a far better athlete than most people give him credit for, but he also squeezed as much out of his God-given talents as any player in memory. It wasn't just in games, either. Hansbrough got his weight-room work done early in the morning so he would have enough time to stretch and shoot 100 jump shots before practice that afternoon. He played so hard so consistently that early in his career, Williams wondered if the kid might be too good to be true. "After his freshman year, I thought gosh, there's no way he can maintain that," Williams said. "But he was more driven after his sophomore year. He was even more driven last year [as a junior]. I've never been around anybody who 24 hours a day is totally focused on trying to do things he thinks can help him be the best player he can be."
That is high praise coming from someone who has spent three decades coaching some of the finest players who ever laced 'em up. (See:
Four days later, there was Tyler, climbing a ladder on the court at Ford Field with a pair scissors in his hand and a sheepish smile on his face. And three-and-a-half months later, there was Tyler, climbing the stage at Madison Square Garden, donning a Pacers cap and shaking