The ACC men's basketball player of the year will be named this afternoon, and it almost certainly will be North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson. Voters got the team right, but they picked the wrong guy.
As talented as Lawson is, and as much as he was a catalyst for both North Carolina wins against Duke, Tyler Hansbrough was the best player in the ACC, again, this season.
Unless you're a Tar Heels fan, you're probably tired of Hansbrough. Officials are, fans are and the media are. Unlike most college stars, he stayed four years. It only feels longer.
You'll recall the classic big man battles Hansbrough had with Duke's Christian Laettner; the deft fast-break passes he use to catch from North Carolina's Kenny Smith; the headlong full-court sprint to block the layup by Wake Forest's Billy Packer. I think Richard Nixon was president when Hansbrough was a freshman. His personality has become his team's, and it's tough to remember the Tar Heels without him.
Hansbrough leads the ACC in scoring at 21.1 points, is seventh in rebounding at (8.1) and is fifth in free-throw percentage. The latter is a huge number for a player who spends as much time at the line as he does. He shot about 74 percent as a freshman, 77 percent as a sophomore, 81 percent as a junior and 85 percent this season.
The improvement attests to hard work. I don't like to write about how hard Hansbrough works, because we've been writing it for so many years now that it has become an extension of his name. If you quote him, this is what you write after the quote: Hansbrough, the hardest-working player in college basketball, said. ...
The Tar Heels know that when they take the court, the most relentless of the 10 players on it will be theirs. What kind of advantage do you think that confers?
When Hansbrough checked into the game against Virginia Tech nine days ago, he almost knocked over the scorer's table. He does that at least once a season. Hansbrough even checks into the game harder than other players do.
Checking into a game does not merit a player of the year consideration.
This is what does.
For four seasons, Hansbrough has been good for about 20 points and seven rebounds, and because he doesn't amass those numbers with moves that make fans jump and shout, he looks as if he can be stopped. One of the last messages opposing teams hear from their coach as they leave the locker room is: Do not let Hansbrough get position. Do not let Hansbrough get easy shots. Do not let Hansbrough beat us.
But he does. He has scored more points in victories than the great Phil Ford, who also played four seasons for the Tar Heels.
Hansbrough hit two 3-pointers Sunday against Duke.
You saw the exaggerated bob of his head as he ran down court. It was as if he was saying that his team was not going to lose. For four seasons he has been saying it, and for four seasons he has been backing it up.
You would think by now that voters would believe him.
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