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November 10, 2008
You don't have to love Tyler Hansbrough. But you have to admit this much: If everybody on your favorite team played as hard as he does, your favorite team would be a lot better.
The North Carolina senior forward is the attack button on your Xbox controller. You keep pressing it down until your thumb is throbbing; he keeps banging and throwing himself around in the post till every opposition frontcourter is bruised.
Even the Duke coach admires Hansbrough.
"Hopefully he stays healthy," Mike Krzyzewski said at ACC Media Day. "He's worthy of it (the all-time ACC scoring record), and he deserves it.
"It's great to be talking about a senior. That's the benefit of Tyler. There's a stigma that nobody is that good anymore by the time they're a senior."
Hansbrough begins his assault on the NCAA, ACC and UNC record books in his final season in Chapel Hill. Several marks are within his grasp. He'll pass Phil Ford as the Tar Heels' leading career scorer with his 123rd point this season, and he'll pass Duke's J.J. Redick as the ACC's leading career scorer with his 602nd point. He scored 882 points last season en route to averaging 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds.
But is there a chink in the armor? Hansbrough has been sidelined indefinitely with a stress reaction in his right shin. If undetected it could have led to a stress fracture. The prescription is rest, but no one is saying quite how much will be needed.
Hansbrough is the first Associated Press National Player of the Year to return to school since LSU's Shaquille O'Neal did for the 1991-92 season. The question we asked our experts, basketball editor Bob McClellan and staff writer Andrew Skwara, was this: Will he repeat?
If you were to give me the entire field versus Hansbrough, I'm still not sure I wouldn't take Hansbrough.
That may sound a little stupid considering how many other great players are out there, but think about what's surrounding North Carolina's big man. He's in almost the same situation as last season. Actually, it's probably a little better.
All five starters return, and not only is UNC a year older, but also this season the Tar Heels don't appear to have any peers. They were the unanimous choice for No. 1 in both preseason polls, and I have yet to see a media outlet that hasn't picked them to win it all.
With the same personnel in place, Hansbrough should have numbers similar to last season. With starting guard Marcus Ginyard sidelined until December with a foot injury, the Tar Heels may have to lean on the three-time All-American more.
Yes, I know Hansbrough is nursing an injured shin of his own. But unless something is actually broken on the guy whom teammates call "Psycho T," I can't picture it slowing him down. I've heard dozens of opposing coaches say Hansbrough is the toughest and hardest-working player they have ever seen. They rave about his work ethic and how consistent he has proven to be.
How are you going to pick against someone like that? Especially when he plays on the best team in the country?
I'm not advocating betting against Hansbrough very often. I know some coaches who have shown their players tape of the UNC standout and said, "That's how you're supposed to play."
Still, I'm worried about the "stress reaction," whatever that is. Geez, remember when there were bruises and sprains? I long for the days of a good old pulled muscle, but I digress.
So say "Psycho T" gets off to a slow start, maybe even misses the Maui Invitational and a chance to tussle with Texas or Luke Harangody and Notre Dame. That's starting to hurt his chances to be the POY in my book.
There's also a good chance the Tar Heels lose a game the longer he's out, which, again, could cost him a few votes given the high expectations on coach Roy Williams' team.
Here's another reason I'm saying he will not repeat: I get everybody else in the country. It's Hansbrough vs. the field, meaning I get Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet, Stephen Curry, Patrick Patterson, Sam Young, Robbie Hummel and every superstar freshman who's about to turn the hoops world on its ear. So my team is pretty strong.
I don't expect Hansbrough to be anything less than great ? when he's 100 percent healthy. But if he misses a couple of games and the Heels have a couple of unexpected losses, he'll have a difficult time repeating.