How Should We Judge Tyler Hansbrough?

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How Should We Judge Tyler Hansbrough?
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

He just helped lead his team to a national championship.  He is a four-time All-American. He was once the national college player of the year. But really, seriously, honestly, just how good is Tyler Hansbrough? Why is he yet another lightening rod for debate about an NBA future when we’ve barely had time to take in his recent accomplishments?  

The Hansbrough debate is similar to the discussion about the professional merits of Duke shooting sensation J.J. Reddick a couple of years ago. As it turned out the critics were right about Reddick. While Reddick has not been a total NBA bust, he’s made virtually no impression at all as a pro.

But should potential NBA greatness be the key measure of a player’s worth?  Must that player have the ideal physical dimensions to be properly evaluated for a chance to succeed in the NBA? Does he need long arms? Or a 40-inch vertical jump?

Just what does make a player great? How should he be judged? Today, less than 24 hours after Hansbrough cut down the nets in Detroit, the critics on radio, TV and, the Internet are already forecasting a less than rosy future for the North Carolina star. So much so that I almost feel sorry for Hansbrough. He has done as much or more than anyone in recent memory to promote the virtues of college basketball and the value of the near mythical “student-athlete.” Should that be enough?

I just want to know what is actually wrong with Hansbrough? Is he too short to be an NBA power forward? Is he too slow to be a small forward or shooting guard? Does he lack the range on his jump shots that might make him valuable to teams at the next level?

Is Hansbrough the proverbial “tweener” who just doesn’t fit into any known position category? Someone please tell me what this kid needs to do to get respect today and at least the acknowledgement that he may have a future.

When I was a kid, one of my college basketball heroes was not projected for NBA or ABA greatness. He was considered a step too slow, and without the ability to create his own shot. But it did not stop me from cheering him on or appreciating him many years later for the joy he gave me when I was too young to “know better.”

The player from my youth who captured my imagination was Purdue’s Rick Mount. He remains in my memory the best long distance shooter I’ve ever seen. That includes all players I’ve seen in high school, college or professional basketball. 

Mount would shoot a rainbow fadeaway jumper from NBA 3-point range from any point on the court that would invariably shoot Purdue back into the game or increase the Boilermaker’s lead. Mount averaged more than 30 points per game for his three-year All-American career at Purdue and led them to an NCAA championship game appearance against mighty UCLA and Lew Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

The point is, Rick Mount, who went on to play for the home state Indiana Pacers and later the Kentucky Colonels in the ABA, never came close to stardom, but I will always remember him and how good he was at Purdue. The fact is Purdue has had a number of players go on to the NBA including Glen “Big Dog” Robinson, but they never had a player like Rick Mount.

Tyler Hansbrough could be today’s Rick Mount, and go from college greatness to NBA non-star. Or he could prove everyone wrong and maybe even help lead a team to an NBA title. But maybe he won’t. Maybe it shouldn’t matter. Hansbrough has already done a lot so far. Perhaps we should properly appreciate that.

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