The Charlotte Hornets pose for pictures, many of them attempting to look fierce, and photographers try to make them laugh. I challenge a photographer who is a funny guy to make forward Tyler Hansbrough laugh. The photographer succeeds. On the court Hansbrough is so intense that many fans probably didn’t know he could.
Hansbrough, in 2008 college basketball’s national player of the yearat North Carolina, is among the most polarizing players to come out of the ACC. He was more polarizing than a Duke point guard.
Hansbrough, who will turn 30 this season, wasn’t a talker. He was a worker. I’ve never seen a college player work as hard, although Hornets owner Michael Jordan might disagree.
Hansbrough is fit, his arms and shoulders broad. But he’s a lean 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds. He played his first four NBA seasons for Indiana and the past two for Toronto. The Hornets signed him in July.
“I’ve always wanted to be here,” he says. “This is home to me. It’s a great feeling. This is something that I’ve wanted since I’ve been in the league.“
What does Hansbrough offer?
“How much time do you have?” asks Marvin Williams, who left North Carolina the season before Hansbrough arrived. “I can name 20 things. I’m sorry I didn’t get to play with him, but we train together in the off-season, and he’s a good friend.”
What’s the first of those 20 things?
“He’s a winner,” Williams says.
In Hansbrough’s second season with the Pacers he averaged 11.2 points and 5.4 rebounds, both career highs. His minutes and his points have declined every season since. Last season he averaged 14.3 minutes, 3.6 points and 3.6 rebounds, all career lows.
A power forward, he’ll compete for playing time with Williams, Frank Kaminsky, Cody Zeller and Spencer Hawes. I ask Charlotte coach Steve Clifford what Hansbrough’s role will be.
“That’s one of the things that I think we have to determine,” Clifford says. “He’s going to help every day just by who he is. He’s a natural worker, he plays with great energy and great toughness. I think at the place where he’s at in his career we need to help him streamline his focus into what he has to do to get back to being be an every night rotation player.”
Clifford says Hansbrough will grab offensive rebounds and draw fouls. To play every night the team undoubtedly will require more. Hansbrough is working with Charlotte shooting coach Bruce Kreutzer. Clifford would like to see Hansbrough take and make mid-range jumpshots the way he did that second season in Indiana, when he hit 46.5 percent from the field.
Whether he scores or he doesn’t, opponents will know when he’s on the court. Regardless of where you went to college, give Hansbrough this: What he has, he gives.
But how? He plays 82 games a season, some on consecutive nights. I ask if he ever wants to take a night off.
“Oh, sure,” Hansbrough says. “I get tired, especially after a back-to-back. But it’s part of my tool box. I don’t have to work at it. It’s how I’ve always been. I never left the court thinking I didn’t play hard.”
How does he beat fatigue?
He drinks coffee before a game and listens to music, every kind, he says. On nights he especially needs a boost he listens to his favorite all-time artist, Eminem.
Hansbrough is not the only Hornet who spent four years in college and was named player of the year. Kaminsky took the same path. I ask the rookie, who is 7½ years younger than the veteran, what he knows about Hansbrough.
“The ACC’s all-time leading scorer,” Kaminsky says. “Good guy. Psycho T is not just a nickname.”
You must have watched him when you were in high school.
“I did,” Kaminsky says. “He was the name in the media when I was early on in my high school career, and the guy you wanted to be like someday.”
What’s he like to share the court with?
“He’s a good player,” says Kaminsky. “He doesn’t really talk much. I’m talking out on the court. He kind of just goes out there and does his thing.”
The thing I wonder about is this — would Hansbrough be in Charlotte if Gerald Henderson was. The Hornets traded Henderson to Portland a month before they signed Hansbrough.
Late in a North Carolina victory over Duke in 2007, Hansbrough went to the basket after grabbing a rebound and was decked by a Henderson forearm. Blood spurted from Hansbrough’s nose. Several people, among them Tar Heels coach Roy Williams, stopped Hansbrough from retaliating. I was in Chapel Hill for the game and felt as if I was at ringside.
If Henderson played for the Hornets, would you?
“I think, yeah, I would have,” he says. “I mean, that’s pretty much behind me.”
If you and Henderson were on the court in practice, would you have been tempted to take a shot at him?
Hansbrough laughs again.
“It’d be nice,” he says. “But I’d rather get him in a game.”