For nearly an entire college basketball season, one player has been the object of my distaste. On the eve of Final Four Saturday, I would like to make amends.
Tyler Hansbrough, please allow me to apologize.
I've called you overrated, unathletic and annoying. I've watched in wonder as referees failed to call offensive fouls on you, even though your shoulder is permanently lodged in the opposition's chest. I've muted the TV or turned up the radio in an effort to escape the incessant praise heaped upon you by objective basketball analysts.
I've spent a season focusing on how you project as a pro. Your "hook shot" won't work against larger defenders. Good luck trying to check the NBA's athletic power forwards all over the court. Quit fooling us, Tyler, everyone knows you're only 6'7 and not 6'8.
If there is a charge to be made against your game, the smart money says I've made it (and yes, on at least one occasion I even fell victim to making the absurd comparison between you and a certain rhythmically challenged former Stanford Cardinal).
A funny thing happened, though, during this NCAA tournament. Maybe hearing over and over again all the stories of your grueling, six-hour offseason workouts finally changed my mind? Perhaps it was the way you used a collection of jumpers, put-backs and post-ups to bully Louisville to the tune of 28 points and 13 rebounds?
Instead, after all the double-doubles and clutch plays, I came to an epiphany. I finally came to accept the simple fact that you are a tremendous college basketball player.
Will you be a great, good, or just serviceable pro? I don’t know the answer to that question, but at this stage of the tournament that thought is irrelevant. In fact, I'm growing ashamed of myself for having given it so much attention this season.
Hell, everyone knew Khalid El-Amin had no future as a pro—but I certainly enjoyed watching him run the point for UConn's '99 championship team.
Your statistics, awards and accomplishments at this level speak for themselves. Your 23 points and 10 rebounds per game this season are impressive enough. Even when offensive catalyst Ty Lawson was victimized by a midseason ankle injury, you refused to let North Carolina take a step back. Through seven games (and six wins) you averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds. In the ACC tournament semifinals, your 26 points and nine rebounds pushed UNC past a pesky Virginia Tech squad.
Oh yeah, you also hit the game winner that day.
Final Four weekend is the culmination of college sports greatest spectacle. It’s a time to celebrate the accomplishments of these student-athletes without worrying about how they got there or what their respective futures might hold.
Tyler, no player in this tournament has accomplished what you have on the collegiate level. It took me awhile to accept this but now I have come around.
Here’s to hoping you add NCAA basketball’s ultimate accomplishment to your resume this weekend.
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