Hansbrough proving critics wrong
By Aaron Beard
CHAPEL HILL ó Tyler Hansbrough brushes off the idea that he brings little to the NBA other than relentless determination. He says his predraft workouts proved otherwise.
Yes, he can consistently knock down outside shots.
And yes, he’s more athletic than most people think.
“I think my game’s effective,” Hansbrough said in a phone interview after working out for New Jersey this week. “I think people are really starting to in a way look at me and say, ‘Oh, he was more athletic than people gave him credit for.’ It’s something I’ve known all along. People just believe what other people say, but not everything’s true.”
There are NBA executives who apparently feel Hansbrough’s skills and tireless work ethic will translate into success in the league. The all-time leading scorer in ACC history figures to be selected anywhere from 11th to 24th in tonight’s NBA draft.
However, it still hasn’t silenced all questions about his ability, which really picked up after his junior season at North Carolina. He was the national player of the year and led the Tar Heels to the Final Four, then announced he was returning to school to graduate and make another title push.
Perhaps a victim of overexposure as the college game’s biggest name on its top-ranked team, Hansbrough’s game was broken down, dissected and magnified with every televised game. Soon the same observers who loved him a year earlier seemed more focused on pointing out his flaws as a potential pro instead.
“Do I think he has a little chip on his shoulder? Yeah, of course,” said Jonas Sahratian, the Tar Heels’ strength and conditioning coordinator. “I think he’s sick of hearing it. Wouldn’t you be? It’s the same thing on and on.”
Last season, Hansbrough’s post game was criticized for its herky-jerky style and a shotput-like delivery in the lane. The shooting range that had expanded steadily just wasn’t quite deep enough. He couldn’t put the ball on the floor against quicker players and couldn’t power the ball up against bigger defenders, either.
Nevermind that he had steadily improved at both ends of the court despite being the focus of every defense he faced. Or that he constantly got to the foul line, where he shot 79 percent for his career.
As Bobcats coach and Tar Heel alumnus Larry Brown said after Hansbrough’s workout in Charlotte earlier this month, “Our league has a tendency to talk about what guys can’t do. I think that’s silly, especially with a kid like him.”
“What he did for us, he went inside and he did all the dirty work,” North Carolina coach Roy Williams said. “He looked like a bull in a china shop. He looked uncoordinated, he looked spastic, however you want to color it, but it’s hard to look like a great athlete with two guys hanging on you and the referee pinching you on the arm and everything else that he had to put up with.”
His matchup with Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin in the NCAA tournament probably didn’t help perceptions. Griffin had 23 points and 16 rebounds while Hansbrough got into early foul trouble, deferred to teammates and finished with eight points.
Still, the Tar Heels won easily to return to the Final Four and ultimately win the NCAA title.
“When you’re a winner, you’ll find ways to get things done,” said John David Patillo, Hansbrough’s high school coach in Poplar Bluff, Mo. “There are some people who have all the ability and talent in the world, but they’re not winners. To me, that’s one of those things that should be an intangible for guys at the next level.”
Yet by many accounts, Hansbrough surprised during workouts and has risen on several draft boards. He also measured up at the NBA draft combine, where prospects have frequently seen their stock drop after coming in shorter than expected.
Hansbrough stood at better than 6 feet, 8 inches without shoes ó within a quarter-inch of Griffin. He also had a longer wingspan and standing reach than Griffin, a passable vertical leap and performed well in agility and sprinting drills.
“I think some of those misperceptions people get is that he only hustles,” Patillo said. “Yeah, he hustles, but did you see him beat everybody down the floor a few times?”
Just don’t expect Hansbrough to sound surprised. He never doubted himself before and isn’t going to get too high now that the pendulum of public opinion seems to be swinging the other way again.
“People can overlook my athleticism or whatever,” Hansbrough said. “People can say what they want, but I get the job done on the court.”
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