The last senior?
After 4 years at North Carolina, Hansbrough may be a finished product, but teams are looking for untapped potential
By Mark Dent
Posted: June 20, 2009
Tyler Hansbrough lost a contact lens. He got hit in the face and bled. Then he continued dominating the predraft workout at Conseco Fieldhouse on Friday.
In short, the four-time All-American did everything scouts, fans and coaches saw him do for four years at North Carolina. He's the senior, the known commodity.
He's also the last one standing.
Finished products like Hansbrough have never been less in demand. This year, unless Hansbrough sneaks into the upper half of Thursday's NBA draft (he's a possibility to go to New Jersey at No. 11), it's likely no college senior will be selected by a lottery-pick team. The Indiana Pacers have the 13th pick, and while Hansbrough closely resembles the young Jeff Foster coach Jim O'Brien wants, he doesn't fill their need of a low-post scorer.
Since 2000, lottery-pick teams have selected just 20 seniors, compared to 24 freshmen and 23 sophomores.
The positives with seniors are clear: polished skills, maturity, an easier adjustment to the NBA.
"It would be helpful if everybody would stay for the full four years," said Jay Bilas, ESPN draft analyst. "You would be getting a more mature player that's more prepared to help you."
But with seniors, you're also getting the Hansbrough model, the known. There's not as much upside and potential. Or hype.
Gerald Henderson, a junior leaving early from Duke, has heard enough from scouts to know about this. Teams, he said, want to gamble with untapped talent. That's why, for instance, then-freshman Marvin Williams was the first of four Tar Heels taken off their 2005 championship team despite coming off the bench.
"Certain teams need superstars," Henderson said. "They don't know yet what they could get. That's appealing."
Although the lottery portion of this year's draft should be historically thin for seniors, the debate about their value isn't new. The NBA has been getting younger for years.
Hansbrough could have been one of those early entrants. He said he thought his skills were NBA-worthy after his freshman year. He just didn't want to leave school.
"If I didn't like my college experience," Hansbrough said, "I probably would have left early."
So Hansbrough stayed. And stayed. He won National Player of the Year as a junior. He won a championship this year. But he didn't necessarily become a more attractive draft pick.
"It helped his game," Bilas said about Hansbrough's senior year. "His value is a separate question."
The Pacers might be looking for someone like Hansbrough. He fits the Foster mold. He also fits the Pacers' recent draft philosophy.
Rather than try for raw potential like the teams Henderson spoke of, the Pacers have drafted finished products. Last year, they chose Roy Hibbert, a senior, and Brandon Rush, a 22-year-old junior. In 2005, they selected Danny Granger, a senior.
On Thursday, Virginia Commonwealth senior and likely first-round pick Eric Maynor worked out, and Hansbrough practiced Friday.
Near the end of that workout, after his contact lens fell out and his nose got battered, Hansbrough sank his face into a towel on the sideline. A moment later, he popped back onto the court and swished a long jump shot. He didn't have that skill a year ago.
"I needed four years for that," he said.