- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 25, 2008

Tyler Hansbrough is all arms flailing, with intensity bouncing off a crazy-eyed facade.

His is the face of college basketball, easily despised because of a lingering question: How is he the leading player on the top team in the nation?

You see, he is the doofus who made good.

There is nothing special about Hansbrough besides a raw determination to excel.

He is somewhat awkward and robotic and lacks a trait that woos the college basketball public.

His athleticism is ordinary, if that. His shooting technique - if technique is the proper word - is more flawed than fundamental. His hook shot falls under the how-not-to category. He is not the strongest or tallest. And in interviews, he is a one-game-at-a-time sort. He is not about to win converts outside Chapel Hill with his programmed personality.

Hansbrough almost sneaks into the box score with 20-some points and 10 rebounds. You do not see the numbers accumulating while the game is in progress. You do not take note of his cunning that results in repeated trips to the free throw line.

He invites physical contact, essentially needs it to maintain his player of the year credentials. More than 38 percent of his offense comes from the free throw line.

If Hansbrough were denied the free throw line, he would be averaging 14.0 points instead of 22.7 this season.

That strength also doubles as one of the criticisms against him, which is: He gets all the calls from the referees.

That is a skeptical claim, considering it sometimes seems as if it is the mission of college basketball referees to put post players in early foul trouble.

If Hansbrough somehow has figured out the inconsistent nature of college basketball officiating, that is to his credit.

As it is, Hansbrough takes a beating from opponents because that truly is the only way to blunt his tenacity. He is going to stick his nose where others dare not. He is going to outwork you. He is going to outhustle you. He is going to do all the stuff that impresses no one but coaches.

That could be a reflection in part of his coach, Roy Williams, who allows his inner raving lunatic to come out on the sideline of each game.

That was Hansbrough becoming North Carolina’s all-time leading scorer last week.

That was the Mount Everest of scoring lists to scale, stuffed as it is with some of the game’s most luminous figures, starting with Michael Jordan.

Hansbrough’s critics have dwelled on what he is not while rarely acknowledging that he has been able to maximize his modest gifts, which is a positive.

In that respect, he is a lot like Juan Dixon, the former Maryland guard who was deemed too slight to play in a major basketball conference by most recruiters. Yet he led the Terps to a national championship in his senior season and is now in his seventh season in the NBA as a role player.

A similar NBA fate probably awaits Hansbrough, whose persistence will be diminished by those with greater physical and athletic gifts. Hansbrough will find that there is no Valparaiso on the NBA schedule, although the Thunder, Wizards and Timberwolves have become versions of that this season.

Hansbrough eschewed the hurry to be an anonymous but wealthy figure who has a nondescript place in the NBA. Remember Adam Morrison and Kevin Durant? Exactly. Bonus question: Which NBA cities do they call home?

Hansbrough has achieved nearly everything but a national championship. That prospect remains a possibility. The Tar Heels are equipped with all the championship-caliber parts, so far as it can be determined in the cupcake portion of the college basketball season.

Whatever the outcome, Hansbrough plans to be in the middle of it, jostling, elbowing, picking up floor burns while flashing those eyes, those off-putting eyes.

They are the eyes that opponents have come to loathe.

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