ON THE day that Tyler Hansbrough was scheduled to announce that he was bypassing the NBA draft to return to North Carolina for his senior year, Tar Heels coach Roy Williams found his star forward pumping iron in the weight room. Williams tried to coax Hansbrough to come to his office so they could work on a press release, but Hansbrough asked Williams to do it without him. Why? He didn't want to interrupt his workout. "I've never been around anybody who 24 hours a day is so totally focused on getting better," Williams says. "If anything, he's been more focused this off-season than I've ever seen him."
The notion of Hansbrough—affectionately known as Psycho T—ratcheting up his intensity must send tremors throughout college basketball. The Tar Heels have seven of their top eight scorers coming back from last year's Final Four team, but Hansbrough is the biggest reason why North Carolina is SI's pick to win the national championship. He swept the national player of the year awards last season, and if he recovers fully from the stress reaction in his right shin that may sideline him for the season opener, he should finish his career as the first player in ACC history to be named first-team All-America four times.
Hansbrough is known for his work around the rim (he averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds as a junior), but he sank two critical long-range jump shots in the last three minutes of North Carolina's East Regional final win over Louisville last March. Over the summer he worked hard to further develop that skill: During one 20-day period Hansbrough shot 150 three-pointers a day and made two thirds of his attempts. "I'm comfortable doing it in practice, so Coach wants me to carry it over more to games," he says.
With North Carolina's top three perimeter scorers—juniors Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson and senior Danny Green—all back, the Tar Heels again will have no trouble putting up points. (They were second in the country last season at 88.6 per game.) But Williams knows that his team needs to improve at the other end of the court (Carolina was 10th in the ACC in scoring defense and fifth in field goal percentage defense), which is why he spent all but 12 minutes of the team's first practice working on the D. ("I'm not sure the players enjoyed it, but I sure did," he says with a grin.)
November 17, 2008
Hansbrough insists the season won't be a "failure" if the Tar Heels don't win it all. Still, a national title is clearly the team's goal. "I don't think it's going to make or break our season," he says, "but it sure would make a great ending to a good college career."