|Driven and relentless, Hansbrough closes in on goal of leading Tar Heels to title|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 02 April 2008 10:34|
``I couldn't really fall asleep,'' he said. ``I kept thinking about this game coming up.''
It's somehow fitting that Hansbrough - a relentless All-American and a star from his first college game - doesn't even take a break even when he should be sleeping.
That he's feeling anxious these days is no surprise. After all, he has worked with every play of his career to win a national championship, a goal now two wins away.
It's why Hansbrough can't talk about his first trip to the Final Four without immediately adding that he wants more.
``It means a lot,'' said Hansbrough, whose team plays Kansas on Saturday night in San Antonio. ``It's a goal we set out. Obviously, we beat some good teams to get here and we feel like we're playing really well. We want to keep on moving.''
Few players have embodied that approach better than the 6-foot-9 junior. He has spent seemingly the entire year earning a personal accolade for every victory the Tar Heels (36-2) managed in what has become the winningest season in the storied program's history. He was a unanimous All-America choice by The Associated Press this week.
Hansbrough, averaging 22.8 points and 10.3 rebounds, will be just the eighth Tar Heel to have his jersey retired. In last weekend's win over Louisville, he scored 28 points to move past Sam Perkins for second on the school's career scoring list with 2,151 points, trailing only Phil Ford (2,290) for a record he'll easily set if he returns next year.
``I didn't make Tyler that hard worker. I've just been a guy who benefited from it,'' coach Roy Williams said. ``That boy is self-driven and self-motivated.''
He's done it with an unyielding will that has him chase every rebound and loose ball while scoring despite constant contact. It's an approach that as a freshman earned him the nickname ``Psycho T'' - he screamed to motivate himself to keep going during a grueling conditioning drill. Aron Baynes, Washington State's Australian forward, called him a ``thrashing croc in the paint'' before the team's matchup in the round of 16 last week.
But Hansbrough has also shown an expansive shooting range. His jumper has proved reliable while creeping out past 15 feet, whether it was his last-second shot to beat Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals or the two clutch shots he hit over Louisville center David Padgett to help the Tar Heels hold their tenuous second-half lead in the East Regional championship.
That performance - a 28 points, 13 rebounds - left coach Rick Pitino offering plenty of praise. Yet his teammates have grown accustomed to the exceptional - Hansbrough averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds during the nearly seven full games that point guard Ty Lawson was out with an ankle sprain in February.
``After you play with him for a while, you see some of the things that he can do,'' sophomore Wayne Ellington said. ``He makes tough shots with a lot of defenders around him. I know he's capable of that. It doesn't really surprise me anymore when I see him make a tough shot.''
His father, Gene, could probably say the same thing. He first saw his son's hypercompetitive drive when the 5-year-old Tyler practically ran over every defender to score goals in soccer games. Soon, Gene had to pad the area around the basketball goal in the basement of their Poplar Bluff, Mo., home because Tyler's games against older brother Greg became so fierce.
Things changed when Greg was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was about 7. The surgery to remove the tumor left him partially paralyzed and forced him to learn to walk again. Greg eventually recovered enough to play basketball again and run marathons, an effort that left an impression on Tyler.
``He lived with it every day,'' Gene Hansbrough said. ``He saw him struggle to be normal. I think watching Gregory struggle to do everything that normal kids do really helped Tyler appreciate what he was blessed with.''
It certainly explains Hansbrough's insatiable work ethic. This, after all, is the same player who celebrated a 40-point day as a freshman by going to the gym to work on free throws during an off day because he missed a few from the line the night before. His approach is simple: ``I feel like you're either getting better or you're not.''
His biggest risk heading into this weekend might be putting too much pressure on himself. Then again, it's what got him here.
``What I said to myself is you've got to do the things you've done before,'' Hansbrough said. ``I can't just sit here and wait for the games. I'm going to go out there and do the routine that I've done. I'm going to do the same things I've always been doing.''