Hansbrough emerges as key contributor for Pacers

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Hansbrough is one of the most popular Pacers, but Indiana fans who were gathered at Conseco Fieldhouse when he was drafted in the first round in 2009 offered a mixed response when his name was announced.

Team president Larry Bird confidently predicted Hansbrough’s success.

“Not everybody’s going to be happy with who you take, but once they see him play, they’ll be very surprised,” Bird said that night. “He fits in well with us, and he’s going to have a great career.”

Hansbrough didn’t win over fans immediately. As a rookie, he missed training camp, the preseason and the first four regular-season games with a right shin injury. Once he returned, he became a fan favorite before his health became an issue again. An inner ear infection that caused dizziness and made him sensitive to light cost him the rest of his season.

He returned healthy for this season, but he couldn’t crack the starting lineup and at times, couldn’t even get into coach Jim O’Brien’s rotation.

“I always had a chip on my shoulder, on down from O’Brien not playing me and us not really getting along, just because I felt I should have been on the court,” he said.

The Pacers fired O’Brien after a 17-27 start this season. Vogel committed to giving Hansbrough time.

In one special week last month, Hansbrough had 29 points and 30 points in back-to-back wins over the New York Knicks, then had 29 points and 12 rebounds against the Bulls in a 115-108 overtime win on March 18.

His ability to draw fouls is rare for a young player; just like at North Carolina, he spends a fair amount of time at the free-throw line. His ability to run the floor makes him a threat in transition, and his sheer desire gives his team second chances.

Hansbrough has added a mid-range jumper to his post game, and as opponents have gained respect for it, he’s learning to take advantage by putting the ball on the floor.

“As a player, I was always trying to develop my game with the assistant coaches,” he said. “Mid-range, post development, whatever I could do to score. As a player, I’m always trying to get a little better. My next step is developing my left hand.”

Hansbrough’s emergence was key for the Pacers because he stepped up while guard Mike Dunleavy was out with a broken left thumb to give the team another scoring option.

“When you’re called upon, you’ve got to make the best of it,” he said.

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