Tyler Hansbrough eats a lot of Papa John’s nowadays.
In the middle of his first season for the Guangzhou Long-Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association, the University of North Carolina legend no longer eats outside of his comfort zone. He has passed on dishes involving brains and blood and zeroed in on the familiar, what has made him successful in the past.
“If you find something that you like here, you stick with that. You don’t really venture out and try to go out on a limb and give something a shot,” Hansbrough tells Bleacher Report over the phone. “I learned that lesson early.”
Hansbrough is in China after spending last season with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the G League. The prospect of an NBA team giving him a shot this season seemed dicey, so Hansbrough decided to pack his stuff and head to Asia, aware of the CBA’s continued rise, in part due to an increasing number of former NBA players hooping there.
There, the 32 year old has found success. Through 22 games, he is averaging 20.7 points and 10.6 rebounds per game while shooting 58.0 percent from the field.
“I’m enjoying my time in China and trying to make the most of this experience right now,” Hansbrough says. “Hopefully I have the opportunity to come back [to China]. If the NBA is on the table, I’ll look at it and weigh my options.”
The former UNC Tarheel has also found a new interest overseas: podcasting. With Duke alum and collegiate rival Gerald Henderson, Hansbrough has a new weekly show, Tobacco Road, in which the two (along with coaches, players and other guests) discuss the history that ties together their alma maters’ legacies.
The two hosts have put aside their past quarrels, including an infamous 2007 moment when Henderson hit Hansbrough with a hard forearm following a missed free throw, leaving “Psycho T” with a broken nose and blood dripping down his face.
“We’re going to be able to provide an insight to former players and current players on the show who have been through the same thing,” Hansbrough says.
These days, whenever fans approach Hansbrough, his time as one of the best collegiate players in the country is almost always the first topic. They remember the 2009 national championship, the showdowns against the Blue Devils, the Tar Heel legacy.
In four seasons at UNC, he averaged 20.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game. In 2010, during halftime against Duke, he had his No. 50 jersey retired, capping of a collegiate career in which he won national player of the year awards from six different organizations. He says it was the best time of his life, and that he understands his legacy as a basketball player will forever be intertwined with his time in college.
“That school was me,” Hansbrough says. “I love talking about it, and I love following the team now, so I always continue to go back to UNC.”
When he left college for the NBA, Hansbrough didn’t know what to expect. He thought he’d play right away following his storied career as a Tar Heel and hoped to be an impact player. But things moved slowly, and as he struggled through injuries, he didn’t get as much playing time as he’d hoped.
“I remember that when I went back to my apartment, and I didn’t have any roommates, I knew that I wasn’t able to kick it with my teammates like I used to, that it wasn’t going to be like college,” Hansbrough says. “I knew it was a job when that first happened, and that was the most eye-opening thing. After practice in college, we would try to figure out where we were going to eat, and that didn’t really happen that much in the NBA.”
He spent four seasons in Indiana before signing a two-year deal with the Toronto Raptors as a free agent. He moved up north with the expectations of getting more time on the court after averaging 19.7 minutes, 8.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game in four seasons with the Pacers.
“Kyle Lowry and DeMar [DeRozan] are playing really well, and they’re great teammates, but I just felt like in Toronto I kinda had higher expectations of going there and playing a bit more,” Hansbrough says. “It just didn’t pan out.”
His most memorable moment as a Raptor came during the 2013 preseason, when Toronto faced off against the New York Knicks. With three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Hansbrough was fouled on his way up to the basket and got tangled after fighting for the rebound. As the whistle blew, Hansbrough had the ball knocked away, which he didn’t appreciate. Ready to share his displeasure with the offending party, he turned around forcefully, until he noticed who’d been the culprit.
It was Metta World Peace, formerly Ron Artest.
Hansbrough immediately changed tones, telling Artest, “My bad, my bad.”
“I’ve seen all the things he’s done, and honestly, I didn’t want to get in a tussle with Ron Artest,” Hansbrough says with a laugh. “I thought it would be somebody else, and I turned around and saw him and was like, ‘Man, it would be Ron Artest.’”
The video immediately went viral, and Hansbrough heard about it from his friends who still poke fun at him to this day. “Man, you’ve got some explaining to do,” one friend texted him. He laughs it all off.
“I consider myself a tougher guy, but I’ve seen things and I didn’t know Ron all that well,” Hansbrough says. “After the incident, it’s funny because every time I see Ron Artest, we always talk. He’s one of the nicest guys. There’s not too many people out there would who would mess with Ron Artest.”
After two years with the Raptors, 44 games in Charlotte and a year in the G League, Hansbrough hoped to continue his passion for basketball by moving halfway across the world.
“There was no moment where I was staring at the wall with the lights out and debating whether or not to retire or anything like that,” Hansbrough says. “I love playing basketball. I love being on the court, whether it's in China, NBA or playing with some of my good buddies.”
For now, Hansbrough will keep getting buckets overseas. He says he doesn’t view his NBA career as a failure. He’s still playing basketball professionally at 32, after all. And the podcast, which averages five stars on over 130 reviews, is a fun new venture, and he certainly doesn’t mind reliving the glory days.
“I miss it. I don’t know one person that wouldn’t want to go back to college,” Hansbrough says. “They were the great days. But obviously, we all can’t stay that same age. We gotta grow up sometime.”