Hansbrough, Bird both beat odds
By Cliff Brunt
Associated PressINDIANAPOLIS ó Tyler Hansbrough’s path to the NBA looks familiar to Pacers president Larry Bird’s.
The 6-foot-9 forwards from small towns both could have left school early, but they stayed for their senior seasons and played for national titles. Both built reputations for being tireless workers, and both heard from doubters who said they weren’t athletic enough to make it in the NBA.
“It reminds me of when I came out,” Bird said Friday as the Pacers introduced Hansbrough, the 13th pick in Thursday’s draft. “There was always this skepticism that I wouldn’t be able to play in this league against these players. Tyler’s got some of that going right now, but he’ll be fine.”
Bird began correcting his naysayers three decades ago. He joined the Boston Celtics in 1979 and left them in 1992 after winning three championships and three MVP awards. He doesn’t necessarily expect that from Hansbrough, but he believes the North Carolina star will be a key to the Pacers’ rebuilding effort.
“I couldn’t be more pleased to have a young man with the talent and character that Tyler has,” Bird said “We all hear about his work ethic and his desire to get better every day. We know in the long run what his future is going to be. It’s going to be filled with nothing but accolades.”
After Bird made his comments Friday, Hansbrough briefly spoke to the fans assembled in the lobby at Conseco Fieldhouse.
Pacers coach Jim O’Brien then looked at Hansbrough and asked, “You feel any pressure?” which drew laughs from the crowd.
Pressure is being a four-year starter at North Carolina, and Hansbrough handled that well. He averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game as a junior and was The Associated Press’ national player of the year. He followed that by averaging 20.7 points and 8.1 rebounds and winning a national championship as a senior. He shot better than 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line both seasons.
Bird expects Hansbrough’s success to translate to the NBA.
“He’s proven,” Bird said. “He’s done everything he could do in college. There’s going to be a period throughout the summer and maybe early in training camp where he’s going to look around and say, ‘I’ve got to do some things differently.’ The adjustments will be made because his work ethic is so great.”
Hansbrough vividly remembers one of the rare times he was doubted while in high school. In 2005, his Poplar Bluff, Mo., squad entered the state final as an underdog to St. Louis Vashon, which had a 60-game winning streak and No. 1 national ranking from USA Today. Hansbrough had 29 points and had 16 rebounds as Poplar Bluff beat the mighty Wolverines 72-56.
Hansbrough looked ready to play upon the mere mention of Vashon.
“Nobody really thought we were going to win that game,” he said. “I think they were the No. 1 high school team in the country, and we were just a small country team no one had really heard about. They had some pretty good players, and everybody was overlooking us. It kind of ticked us off, so we went in there and … got a state championship and surprised a lot of people.”
He approaches every day the way he approached that game.
“One thing is, I’m here to win, and I want to win before I prove people wrong,” he said. “Whatever I can do to do that is what I’m about.”
Bird said the only player he’s seen who could match Hansbrough’s intensity is his former Boston teammate, Hall-of-Fame center Dave Cowens. Hansbrough was flattered that someone with Bird’s reputation respected him so much.
“It means a lot,” Hansbrough said. “That’s coming from someone that’s definitely proven and one of the greatest. It’s exciting for me as a basketball fan.”
Hansbrough’s selection was about more than basketball for Bird.
“Being from Indiana, young kids grow up, play the game the right way and leave their hearts on the floor and they have a passion for the game,” he said, “and that’s where Tyler fits in.”
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