College Basketball: Hansbrough ready for one more year of college life
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó For Tyler Hansbrough, the value of another year at North Carolina can’t be measured in NBA dollars. It’s not just about records, titles or trophies, either.
The reigning player of the year is also back for something else: one more season to be a kid before basketball becomes a business.
“I like my situation,” Hansbrough said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I really enjoy college. I felt like this is where I want to be. I want to be a part of this team because I consider all my teammates like my brothers, and I didn’t want to leave them behind for another year because I was wanting to do something else. I mean, I enjoy this more than anything.”
Sure, he likely would have been a first-round pick had he entered the 2008 NBA draft. Instead, he decided to stay in Chapel Hill, where he could break the program’s 30-year-old career scoring mark in the first month of the season and his Tar Heels are loaded for another shot at the national championship he so desperately wants.
He has earned the right to become the eighth player in program history to have his jersey retired. He’s the first AP player of the year to return to school since LSU’s Shaquille O’Neal in 1991. And he’s probably the biggest name to skip the draft and return for a fourth season since Tim Duncan more than a decade ago.
“Obviously with him, like Tim Duncan, there is something there besides the money,” said Dave Odom, who coached Duncan at Wake Forest. “That’s not wrong either, and we need to celebrate that. … I’ve never seen any player who stayed four years and graduated who ended up being worse for the extra year and the diploma in his hand walking away from there.”
Jay Bilas, a former Duke player and ESPN analyst, doesn’t question the decision. He figures the 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward would have gone in the middle of the first round had he left school and likely won’t see a huge spike or drop in his draft stock.
“You hear that a lot from people that he is who he is, and who he is very good,” Bilas said. “I think some people look at it like a negative that he’s an established commodity, that people know what they’re getting. That can be a really good thing. There’s so many guys who get drafted on potential higher than maybe they’re worth and end up being a disappointment. He’s going to play a dozen years in the NBA and make more money than any of us can count.”
A repeat performance on the court ó and then some ó is something Hansbrough and his teammates will be expected to produce this season. The top six scorers are back from a team that won a school-record 36 games to reach the Final Four. The pressure to win a national championship will be immense, and everyone will be ready to pass judgment on whether Hansbrough’s return helps or hurts his NBA draft stock.
No matter. The guy nicknamed “Psycho T” for his relentless oncourt style knows he made the right call.
“I realize everybody’s going to put that target on my back by coming back,” he said. “I’m not going to place any added pressure on myself. I’m just going to try to do the things that help my team win. I’m not going to try to live up to any expectations. I think as long as our team is doing fine, everybody will be happy.”
Still, there will be repeated questions for him that count down his pursuit of the school’s all-time scoring and rebounding records, as well as the ACC scoring mark set by Duke’s J.J. Redick in 2006. But Hansbrough’s roommate, fellow senior Bobby Frasor, doesn’t expect Hansbrough to have trouble with the increased scrutiny. He sees a different side of him.
Frasor describes Hansbrough as the guy who tells “terrible” jokes and has a “strange” sense of humor, who has the “weirdest” taste in music and even dances while listening to ó of all things ó the ’80s song “Puttin’ on the Ritz” on his iPod.
Hansbrough, on track to graduate with a degree in communication studies, shares an offcampus house with Frasor and senior Marcus Ginyard, along with former team manager and since-graduated Preston Puckett. His family’s financial stability ó his father, Gene, is an orthopedic surgeon ó took out the monetary need to leave school, especially for a guy described by his father as someone who “doesn’t need Rolexes and Escalades to be a happy person.”
“People see the ‘Psycho T’ personality and they associate that with him off the court, like he’s going to bite your head off if you come up to him or that he eats raw meat,” Frasor said. “When he steps on the court, it’s true: he’s in a different mind-set. Even in pickup (games) or practice, you can’t joke around with him. But off the court, once you get to know him and he opens up, he’s a character.”
Fans got a glimpse at his other side when photos surfaced on the Internet this year of Hansbrough and Frasor jumping off a fraternity house balcony and into a pool during an end-of-semester party. While they probably made Hall of Fame coach Roy Williams squeamish and created quite a buzz, Hansbrough shrugged it off as the kind of carefree moment he came back to college to experience.
“(Williams) kind of laughed about it,” Hansbrough said. “You could tell there was a sense of, ‘Don’t do that again, please.’ But it was fun. You know, what do you do when one of your best friends jumps off the roof and everybody’s chanting your name to jump off? Say, ‘Oh no, I can’t guys, I could get injured jumping off it?’ Yeah, you’re going to do it. There was like 15 other people that did it before me, I checked out the situation and thought it was fine.
“I’d do it again. Same thing.”
Still, Frasor said Hansbrough handles his celebrity well. He has seen how diners in area restaurants turn for a glimpse or whisper to each other when the hard-to-miss forward is in the room. He noticed when Hansbrough left several of his awards in the cab of his late-model pickup truck for a stretch while others were tucked away in his closet instead of being on display.
Then there’s the endless autograph requests, including one in which he signed a TV remote control because that’s all the seeker had handy. Not that Hansbrough seems to mind; he was once the eager youngster trying to get player autographs while attending basketball camps at Three Rivers Community College in his hometown of Poplar Bluff, Mo. The thrill he felt each time he got one keeps him signing just about everything to return the favor ó particularly for children.
As for all those magazines featuring him on the cover ó they’re just about everywhere in Chapel Hill these days ó Hansbrough is most interested in grabbing copies for his parents.
“A lot of times I don’t know (he’s on them) until I see them,” said his mother, Tami. “I’ll say, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ and he’ll say, ‘I just didn’t think about it.’ I’m not saying it’s not important, and certainly I love to see my son on a (magazine) cover. I just don’t think it’s something Tyler would seek out.”
The expectations facing Hansbrough on and off the court could be overwhelming, but at least for now he is keeping it all in perspective.
“I think there’s a lot of good players out there right now that could easily take over,” Hansbrough said. “I have to keep doing the same things that got me in this position. It’s just about getting a little better or it could go away quickly.”