Friday, December 19, 2008

A Coach's Dream

It was the usual dinner break at work. I go downstairs to the hotel’s basement cafeteria where I eat and watch television. These lunch and dinner breaks are the only times I watch television, and usually it reinforces my belief that began in college that I’m not missing much.


Last night was different. I grabbed the remote and flipped to the first basketball game I could find. To my delight my alma mater, UNC-Chapel Hill, was playing at home against the University of Evansville. No sooner had I turned to the game that the announcer said, “Hansbrough needs one field goal to break the school scoring record….” On the next offensive possession, senior Tyler Hansbrough received a bounce-pass in the low-post. He then turned to his right and banked in a fade-away jumpshot, breaking Phil Ford’s scoring record.



The new mark: 2,291 points and counting.

Because the best college players usually leave school early, I believe Hansbrough’s scoring record will stay intact for many decades. No college basketball player I’ve seen has earned his points more than Hansbrough. He is by no means the most talented player in college basketball, not even the most talented player on his own team, yet no one works harder. He’s a coach’s dream.

In 2006, Hansbrough became the first UNC freshman to be named First-Team All-America. He scored 40 points in a game, setting the Dean Smith Center scoring record. So what did Hansbrough do that summer? He pushed sports utility vehicles around the Smith Center parking lot. Training like this suits his nickname “Psycho T.” He brings this same passion to every play on the court. Some opponents have tried to get into his head by flagrantly fouling him. No one takes a bigger beating in college basketball than Hansbrough, and he has shown a lot of restraint by not retaliating. The most extreme example happened two seasons ago when Duke’s Gerald Henderson broke Hansbrough’s nose with a flagrant elbow. On his desk next to the portraits of his wife and children, UNC coach Roy Williams keeps an 8-by-10 photo of a bloody Hansbrough taken a half hour after the flagrant foul, according to Sports Illustrated. Recalling the memory, Williams says, “He has two cotton swabs up his nose and blood all over his arms and jersey, and he says, ‘How do I look Coach?’” Williams told SI. “What a goofball.”

He may be a goofball who likes jumping off a fraternity balcony into a swimming pool (click here), but I think his dedication to basketball while being a campus celebrity demonstrates his maturity, even if he is pushing an SUV around a parking lot.

Greg Hansbrough overcame a near-death brain tumor and post-surgery paralysis to play high school basketball and run marathons. (Joshua A. Bickel/Missourian)

There is no doubt his oldest brother Greg had a profound effect on Tyler. Greg had a life-threatening brain tumor removed at age 7, which partially paralyzed the left side of his body. Doctors told Greg he would never ride a bike again. Not only did Greg will himself to ride a bike after falling hundreds of times, but he played for his high school’s varsity basketball team, wearing No. 50, which Tyler wears in honor of his brother. Doctors had told Greg he might never walk again. Now he runs marathons. “It’s the fight in Greg that a lot of times has driven me,” Hansbrough told SI. “I just play basketball games. He fought for his life, and his toughness was incredible.”

The Hansbrough brothers, from left: Greg, Tyler, and Ben. Tyler wears No. 50 in honor of Greg, who wore it at Poplar Bluff High School. (Photo courtesy of Greg Hansbrough)

Now you know why I was happy I watched television last night.

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