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Hansbrough has some help

By Bret Strelow
Salisbury Post
SAN ANTONIO ó Tyler Hansbrough raced in from the free-throw line, jumped between two Louisville rebounders and completed the play with a two-handed follow dunk.
The outcome didn’t surprise Surry Wood.
Twelve minutes later, with North Carolina attempting to close out an Elite Eight victory against the Cardinals, Hansbrough caught a pass at the top of the key. He took one dribble and drilled an 18-foot jumper.
The result looked familiar to Brandon Rhodes.
Hansbrough, named the national player of the year by The Associated Press and United States Basketball Writers Association on Friday, has led the top-seeded Tar Heels to the Final Four. He’s received assistance along the way from unglorified sources such as Wood, a senior walk-on, and Rhodes, a student manager.
Their behind-the-scenes contributions have helped mold Hansbrough into the All-American who will take the Alamodome floor tonight vs. Kansas.
“The young man is the most driven, most focused youngster I’ve ever seen in my life to be the best player he can be,” UNC coach Roy Williams said.
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The Tar Heels wrapped up an 83-73 win against Louisville shortly before midnight last Saturday in Charlotte, and Williams said Hansbrough couldn’t have gone to bed before 4 a.m. in Chapel Hill.
Hansbrough returned to the Smith Center at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. He conducted an interview with CBS, then practiced his shooting in an almost-empty arena.
Enter Rhodes.
“I would say the one manager that’s always kind of rebounded for me is Brandon,” Hansbrough said. “He’s kind of the guy that’s been there a lot. They all do their part, and they help me out extremely a lot. I’m fortunate to have guys like that.”
Rhodes, a junior from Boulder, Colo., said the chance to serve as a manager factored into his decision to apply to UNC.
Preston Puckett, who is also from Boulder, enrolled at the school a year earlier and volunteered with the basketball program. Puckett, now the team’s head manager, lives with Hansbrough, Marcus Ginyard and Bobby Frasor in an off-campus house.
Hansbrough shoots before every scheduled practice. If the Tar Heels have a day off, Rhodes still plans on showing up at the Smith Center by 3 p.m. Puckett called Rhodes on Tuesday, for instance, and told him Hansbrough wanted to put in some work following an afternoon media session.
He goes through a half-hour regimen in which he shoots from six different spots on the floor. Sometimes he circles the 3-point arc, and he always makes 50 free throws before stopping.
“I try to obviously give him good passes every time, but he’s not too particular,” Rhodes said. “He’ll hit the shot no matter what kind of pass I give him. He can go through the whole thing and just miss a couple jumpers every time.”
The competitive streak that earned Hansbrough the nickname “Psycho T” comes out on the rare occasion when he struggles in front of Rhodes.
“If he ever misses a couple jump shots in a row, he gets kind of upset,” Rhodes said. “He stops for a minute, collects himself and goes back to draining jumpers.
“All the shots he’s been hitting lately, it’s really no surprise to me. Whenever I see him take a jump shot, I know if it’s going in when it leaves his hand.”
The final three minutes of the Louisville game left Rhodes with a satisfied feeling even though he didn’t receive credit for a single assist.
Hansbrough hit the open 18-footer from the top of the key to give UNC a 73-66 lead, and he made a contested jumper from the left wing on the Tar Heels’ next possession.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m hassling the managers, making them get there early for me,” he said in the triumphant locker room. “But you put in that extra work for rewards like this.”
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Hansbrough scores the majority of his points in the paint, and Wood uses his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame as a roadblock.
The scratch running down Wood’s forearm? That’s from Hansbrough.
Wood said he normally has seven or eight bruises on his arms, but the gentler postseason practices have given him a chance to heal.
How often do Hansbrough and Alex Stepheson beat up on Wood?
“I would say daily,” Hansbrough answered with a laugh. “Surry has definitely taken his beatings from me and Al. He’ll show you his bruises.
“Every once in a while he’ll come to practice and you’ll be like, ‘Man, where did you get that bruise, Surry?’ He’ll say, ‘I got it from you when you elbowed me the other day.’ ”
Wood said he even suffered a concussion during a December practice.
Hansbrough shot a turnaround jumper from the baseline, but Wood blocked it. The rest is headache-causing history.
“He spazzed out in mid-air and dropped an elbow like he was still trying to grab the ball, and ‘Wham!’ ” Wood recalled. “Coach (Jerod) Haase said he thought Tyler had crushed my face when my head hit the ground. He said it was a dull thud.”
Wood accepts his role as a crash-test dummy.
When the Tar Heels were preparing to face an athletic power forward like Maryland’s James Gist, Wood operated outside the lane and forced Hansbrough to move his feet defensively.
Wood tried to emulate 7-foot-7 UNC Asheville center Kenny George ó “I had to walk around all practice with my hands up, and I would get to, almost literally, walk down the court, which was awesome,” Wood said ó and he incurs the wrath of UNC’s coaches when he fails to do his job properly.
Wood shakes it off because he knows he’s not alone. Louisville’s Terrence Williams and Andre McGee, after all, couldn’t keep Hansbrough from dunking that missed shot in transition last weekend.
“I think I can guard Tyler almost as well as anybody because I’ve played against him for three years,” Wood said.
“You know the coaches in practice are still going to yell at you for not boxing him out. You know in the game he’s still going to get that rebound and their coaches are going to yell at them because they’re not boxing him out either. You can’t.”
That level of drive and focus separates Hansbrough from athletic foes and endears him to the out-of-sight stagehands within UNC’s program.
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Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or bstrelow@salisburypost.com.

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