In terms of North Carolina basketball legends, Tyler Hansbrough is near the top.
In four years with the Tar Heels, Hansbrough won just about every conceivable individual honor there is in the sport, plus a national championship. So it’s good news for UNC fans then, when he says he sees similaritiesbetween himself in one current Tar Heel.
“So far, I think Luke Maye has been our best player,” Hansbrough said via phone on Thursday. “I love watching Luke. I hate saying it, but he’s got a high motor. Everyone says I’ve got a high motor, and he’s got a high motor, but he does play every possession.”
The comparison makes sense from a physical standpoint and a statistical one. Maye, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound junior, is averages 19.9 points and 10.5 rebounds this season. In Hansbrough’s junior season, the 6-9, 250-pound forward averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds. Also, Maye’s 187 points through nine games is the most by a Tar Heel since Hansbrough’s senior season in 2008-2009, when he had 207.
But there are also differences between the players.
“I think he’s a little more impressive than I was at trailing and being a knock-down 3-point shooter,” Hansbrough said. “Jawad Williams, if you watch him, and Luke’s not as athletic as Jawad, but spreading the court and his shooting ability is kind of like that.”
Aside from Maye, Hansbrough has been especially impressed with two other Tar Heels.
“Joel Berry is very talented and can get very hot,” Hansbrough said, “so I think with Joel, Luke, and Theo (Pinson), I think that’s going to be our core. And if we can get some play from the young bigs coming up and having them step up... I think we’re going to be all right.”
NBA comeback in sight?
Hansbrough is playing for Guangzhou LL in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA), one of his first ventures overseas.
“I’ve actually enjoyed it a lot so far,” Hansbrough said. “It’s new for me playing overseas in China, but I think you’ve got a lot of big names in China. The CBA is something that a lot of people are exploring right now, and I think it has been good for me so far.”
Other notable names in the CBA include Jimmer Fredette, Jared Sullinger and fellow UNC alum Ty Lawson. Hansbrough last played in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets in 2015-2016. He averaged 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds for his NBA career.
He said the transition has generally been good, aside from a few obvious challenges, like the language barrier.
“I’ve got a translator, but the language barrier, they’ve got so much technology now that you can download something on your phone and type it in and it’ll translate for you,” Hansbrough said. “ The food is something that I’m trying to get used to. That’s the biggest challenge so far.”
Hansbrough also said that while he’s enjoying his experience in the CBA, where he plays regular minutes, he isn’t opposed to an NBA comeback. For now, though, he’s trying to relish his time in China.
“The NBA I enjoyed my time, but also I like playing a lot, and I knew when I came to the CBA that I was going to play a lot, and I love playing basketball,” Hansbrough said. “If the NBA presents itself, it’s something I’ll look at, but I’m trying to make the most of the CBA and this experience right now.
‘The Incident’ all these years later
The reason Hansbrough’s name is popping up now is because Thursday marked the debut of his podcast, ‘Tobacco Road’, with former Duke star Gerald Henderson.
And the former college stars aren’t shying away from their past. When Henderson famously (or infamously, depending on which side you take) broke Hansbrough’s nose on March 4, 2007 in an ACC game between the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, it linked their pasts forever. It’s fitting then that the first episode of the podcast - available on iTunes, Soundcloud and Google Play - is titled ‘The Incident.’
“Everyone that follows Duke basketball and UNC basketball, it’s been so long that me and Gerald dealt with this whole incident where he pretty much broke my face,” Hansbrough said, “and everyone thinks we hate each other, and I think it’s kind of funny that we teamed up and did a podcast.”
Hansbrough said the podcast will not only feature the two former stars, but guests from past and current teams, too. The former stars will share stories from their time on Tobacco Road, and since both are still heavily involved with their programs, offer opinions and insight into the teams as they presently stand.
“We thought people would really jump at it,” Hansbrough said. “I think we’re going to provide insight into Duke and UNC that no one else can because it wasn’t that long that we were in school going against each other.”