Commentary

Critics go silent as Tyler takes title

Originally Published: April 6, 2009
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

DETROIT -- Ben Hansbrough, his brother Greg and a few buddies were walking through a casino here when it started -- the trash talk, the negative comments and slurs about their brother, Tyler.

He wasn't emotional enough, got too many calls in his favor, wasn't as good as everybody thought -- the same stuff people have been saying since Hansbrough enrolled at North Carolina.

"Let's put it this way, we had security called on us," Ben Hansbrough said. "What did we do? We stuck up for our brother."

Told later of his brothers' Sunday night altercation, Hansbrough grinned.

"That's what I've been telling you guys; I run with a rough family," he said. "Those are my brothers. They're going to back me up no matter what."

[+] EnlargeTyler Hansbrough
Bob Donnan/US PresswireHansbrough contributed his "businessman"-like 18 points and 7 rebounds Monday.

They've been busy.

Through four years and three crushing losses in the NCAA tournament, Hansbrough has endured more heat and taunts than anyone this side of Christian Laettner.

He handled it with grace, maintaining his stoic demeanor amid the din ... which, of course, served only to incite the rabble-rousers even more.

This weekend, he spent the bulk of his time defending his own legacy, insisting he didn't need a national championship to legitimize his career.

Maybe he didn't.

Everyone else did.

The four consecutive spots on the All-American team -- a first by anyone in an ACC uniform -- the rewritten league and NCAA record books, all of it would have been nice fodder on a solid résumé but the 10 ringless fingers would have been the only digits anyone remembered.

By the looks of things Monday night when the buzzer sounded to complete the by then inevitable North Carolina coronation, 89-72, Hansbrough apparently needed this, too.

As he left the college court for the final time, with 1:03 showing on the clock, Hansbrough wrapped Roy Williams in a bear hug. Already red-faced with emotion when the camera caught him, he jumped up and down as if he were on springs as the final seconds ticked down, a contained Vesuvius finally erupting with emotion.

As "One Shining Moment" played on the big screens, Hansbrough, net draped around his neck, stood on top of the makeshift stage and watched. For a split second after the song ended, he didn't take his eyes off the screens, swallowing a big gulp of emotion before turning to the crowd with a smirkish smile.

Long dogged for being emotionless and even cold, a liberated Hansbrough was asked what he'd like to say to his critics now.

"You can say what you want. I'm a national champion," he said, his head pumping to add to his newly displayed attitude. "How many of you can say you're a national champion? I can. That's right. I can. My critics can't."

Four players made individual decisions to return to North Carolina this past summer, each domino giving the Tar Heels a better and better chance to cart the hardware out of Detroit.

How many of you can say you're a national champion? I can. That's right. I can. My critics can't.

-- Tyler Hansbrough

The Heels wouldn't be in a national title game without Ty Lawson; they wouldn't be anywhere near as difficult to defend without the shooting of Wayne Ellington; without Danny Green, they would have been hard-pressed to replace injured Marcus Ginyard.

But this season always has been about Hansbrough. He is the face of the program, a god if you bleed Carolina blue, a devil if any other color seeps from your veins.

As the defending national player of the year, he had nowhere to go but down, so when he chose to not even test the draft waters, some labeled him foolish.

When a stress reaction took him off the court for four of the Heels' first seven games, many figured Hansbrough had just blown a cash windfall.

"I can say this, and you guys can choose to believe it or not," said Williams, his voice catching. "I wanted this championship for Roy Williams, yes. And I'm extremely, extremely satisfied. But I desperately -- and it's not war and it's not economy or anything -- but I desperately wanted this championship for that young man. I know that's corny, but hello Pete, that's who I am."

It's funny, really. Hansbrough's predecessors as the Most Hated Man in College Basketball were everything he is not. J.J. Redick was a flashy 3-point shooter with the aim of a dagger, Laettner a hated bad boy who stomped his way into infamy.

Hansbrough's biggest fault is that he approaches the game like "a businessman," as he puts it. His teammates long have argued that people don't really know him, don't see the guy they see away from the spotlight.

Then again, they also agree it's too late to sway public opinion.

Asked Sunday whether it would help Hansbrough's cause to show more of his personality, Green laughed, "Probably not."

Besides his inner goofball -- on display in his attempt at dancing after the nets were cut down -- those who know Hansbrough best say people have been most guilty of confusing Hansbrough's calm persona with a lack of passion.

[+] EnlargeTyler Hansbrough
Jerry Lai/US PresswireTyler Hansbrough captured the one piece of hardware he had been missing.

"This is the culmination of a dream he's had since he was old enough to know what a basketball is," Hansbrough's father, Gene, said from the stands. "This is something he's had in his mind since he was a little boy, to be a national champion. All the individual awards are nice, but this is a team sport. It's always meant more for him to win as a team."

In his career finale, Hansbrough turned in a typical Hansbrough game, a workman's 18 points and seven rebounds. Caught up in a hard jumpball on the opening tip with Travis Walton, he survived the extra attention Michigan State paid to him throughout, getting to the line 10 times.

He leaves as one of the most decorated players in college history. The first player since Wayman Tisdale and Patrick Ewing to earn three-time consensus All-American honors, Hansbrough is also the fourth all-time leading scorer in NCAA tournament play with 325 points, the ACC's all-time leading scorer and the first player in conference history to lead his team in scoring and rebounding in each of his four years.

"This will sound cheesy, but I've just been lucky to be along for the ride," Bobby Frasor said. "To be able to say I played four years with him, that's something I'll be talking about with my kids and my grandkids."

Lots of other people will be talking less.

On Monday night, Hansbrough didn't win most outstanding player honors.

That award went to Ellington.

He didn't throw down any rim-rocking monster dunks a la Blake Griffin.

He didn't wow anyone with the breakneck speed Lawson possesses.

But he won the one thing that was missing from his résumé.

"You know what? All those people who have been saying that stuff about him for his whole career, guess what?" Ben Hansbrough said. "They can't say anything now. He just won a national championship."

Good luck silencing the brothers now.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

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