Tar Heels try to move forward from tough loss
By Bret Strelow
SAN ANTONIO ó North Carolina has taken steps forward in each of Tyler Hansbrough’s three collegiate seasons.
That trend could continue if Hansbrough returns for his senior season. Even if he doesn’t, the Tar Heels would likely enter the 2008-09 season as a contender for the national championship.
UNC won the title in 2005 and lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament one year later, when Hansbrough was a freshman. It dropped an overtime decision to Georgetown in the Elite Eight last season and put that bad memory to rest by reaching the Final Four this year.
The Tar Heels took a 15-game winning streak into their semifinal with Kansas and fell behind 40-12 in the first 15 minutes of an 84-66 loss.
“To come so far, no team wants to lose like this when they feel they’re so close, especially when you think your team’s playing well,” Hansbrough said.
The Tar Heels will lose one scholarship senior ó Quentin Thomas ó from a team that set a school record by winning 36 games. North Carolina’s starting lineup could return completely intact, or as many as three players could opt to leave early for the NBA.
The lure of a professional contract is appealing to potential first-round picks such as Hansbrough, sophomore point guard Ty Lawson and sophomore shooting guard Wayne Ellington.
An ankle injury slowed Lawson’s development this season, and Ellington has more room to improve like he did following his freshman campaign.
Hansbrough already has accomplished enough to have his No. 50 jersey retired once he leaves UNC, but there are other milestones within reach.
Hansbrough, who has 2,168 points and 943 rebounds in his career, could become the first player to be recognized as a first-team All-American four times.
He is 225 rebounds away from passing Sam Perkins for first place in North Carolina history and 123 points away from claiming Phil Ford’s status as the school’s all-time leading scorer. Hansbrough needs 602 points to break the ACC career scoring record set by former Duke star J.J. Redick in 2006.
“I’d be the best dadgum coach that ever lived if I put that kind of heart and desire into every one of our players,” UNC coach Roy Williams said. “But I’m also the luckiest coach alive that I’ve got one player like that.”
The Tar Heels can combat any losses with the arrival of a recruiting class that features two forwards (Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller) and one point guard (Larry Drew). Davis, who is 6-foot-8, is the jewel of the trio.
UNC will have at least three experienced, fourth-year players to lead the way ó Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green and Bobby Frasor are Hansbrough’s classmates.
Frasor tore the ACL in his left knee on Dec. 27 and saw action in only 12 games this season
A player isn’t eligible to receive a medical redshirt if he participated in more than 30 percent of his team’s games in the regular season, and UNC plans to appeal even though Frasor played in 38.7 percent of the Tar Heels’ contests. Foot injuries caused him to miss 10 games as a sophomore.
Ginyard used his thumb to measure the length of the scar on Frasor’s knee last week in the squad’s Alamodome locker room.
Frasor sat by himself atop a table at the far end of the same locker room late Saturday night as his teammates fielded questions about the loss to Kansas.
The Tar Heels cut their deficit to four points with 11 minutes remaining, but they ended the season with another motivating setback.
“We didn’t have the effort, intensity or passion that a team should have in a Final Four game,” Ginyard said. “It’s the same thing over and over. Those are the worst games to lose, games where you felt you didn’t bring it.”
Contact Bret Strelow at 704-797-4258 or firstname.lastname@example.org.