If anyone pays attention to me, which is probly not the case you probly know that I was one of the rather small group supporters who loved the Hansbrough pick, when most were screaming that his game wouldn't translate to the pro level.
To me, it was ridiculous at the time for people to think that, but that was the consensus of many many basketball heads. Looking back, I'm guessing, or at least hoping, that a lot of people are now realizing that yes... that was a ridiculous notion (to think that he couldn't play at this level).
I understand why a lot of people did think it though... When it comes to body parts, the guy doesn't have an 8-foot wing-span, a 40-inch vertical, a 4.25 40 yard dash, but he has something 99% of players don't have and I feel like everyone was completely disregarding --- the heart of a champion. In fact, if you could measure that alone, I could argue that there are maybe 1-2 players in the entire NBA who have equal or more of that particular measurement (Kobe, Rose). Kobe and Rose have ridiculous physical gifts --- Hansbrough does not. He achieved everything he did through sheer determination and will. It's tremendous to think about.
If you were to follow Hansbrough on a purely virtual level through college, and not have access to actually visualize him, you'd think he was far and away a #1 pick, a sure-fire franchise player. Looking at his college stats and achievements, he was arguably the best college player in a decade.
The problem occurred when people looked at him. He's non-descript. He's not huge. He's not stupidly fast. He wasn't jumping out of the gym. He wasn't raining threes from halfcourt. He's just this... dude. This white dude who can't jump. And bam --- expectations lowered.
So it was no irony, to me, when another non-descript white dude who couldn't jump with generally-regarded non-athleticism but equally impressive college achievements (maybe even less) --- drafted him. Larry Bird said "I like this guy."
That should be enough for anyone to say "hey, you know what, I make the correlation, and if Bird likes this guy, he's legit." Instead --- everyone said horrible pick. Reach.
He started off his rookie year like any rookie, with little playing time, some bumps, a lot of adjustments to make, but we never really got to see the kid. Then the vertigo thing happened. Freak development... (and I happen to sympathize with Hansbrough on this because I too suffer from bouts of vertigo, and I know how much it can suck). I had a feeling that they would get it straightened out though, because my vertigo straightens out. It was just a matter of time.
When he finally recovered, I made the realization that the new hurdle for Hansbrough to cross was Jim O'Brien. About this time I was starting to really want to move on with a new coach for a ton of reasons (mainly for a better team system and new culture), but increased involvement for Hansbrough was one of those reasons, too.
Vogel was just what the doctor ordered. He did a lot of things right, imo, but one of them was putting more of the team on Hansbrough.
Remember the 6-game losing streak that made the Pacers look like they could've been beaten by my little brother's AAU team? Think back to that stretch of hapless basketball. To that stretch of ball that put us back out of the playoffs, and had many people thinking "tank." Think back to the turning point when all looked lost... the mood changed.
It was Hansbrough. You could see it. When all the rest of the players were sleep-walking through a long series of unfortunate possessions and not seeming to care, it was Hansbrough who came in and without saying a word but using pure energy and determination told all of Pacers nation --- I'm not giving up. The rest of this Pacers nation probably has, but not me.
It was during the worst stretch of Pacers basketball that I can remember that Hansbrough showed his heart, by throwing out 17, 26, 21, 20, 29, and 30. When everyone else got worse, he got better, when no one thought he could. He can. Few players have this ability.
That's the heart of a champion. His level of play stirred everyone, from players to fans. And we played ourselves back into the playoffs the rest of the way. What if Tyler Hansbrough hadn't have happened? Would we be talking playoffs today?
When the experts were predicting that we'd be swept, I thought "you may be right". But there's one player that I can't count out. I was thinking, "It's the playoffs. Post season. That's Tyler Hansbrough time." You KNEW this guy was going to show up. This is where he made a living in college.
The Pacers came out and delivered a statement in Game 1, even if they did dominate the Bulls for all but 2.5 mins of the game only to lose it at the end. And while we had great contributions from many players, it was the play of Hansbrough that set the tone. His energy, scrappiness, will to win rippled throughout the entire team. His killer jumpshots were clutch. This 37-45 team wasn't supposed to be answering Chicago's runs, but here he was knocking down huge shot after huge shot. We weren't supposed to be leading by 10 with 3 to go, but there's Hansbrough coming back from being almost knocked unconscious to steal the ball at the top of the key (how often do you see a PF do that?) and thunder down the court for a huge dunk and-1 that sent the Chicago fans reeling. That happened with 3 minutes to go in a playoff game against the best team in the league on their home court. Don't think this guy has a killer instinct or the heart of a champion?
The rest of the game showed that this young team still needs to learn to close a game out, but you know everyone in that stadium, as Frank Vogel said, "doesn't want to play Tyler Hansbrough" anymore. Boozer doesn't wanna play Tyler Hansbrough. As ridiculous as that sounded to many a few months ago when Vogel declared it... it's not sounding so ridiculous now.
He's my new favorite Pacer, even if he doesn't have Michael Jordan's physical gifts. On top of his intrinsic gifts, he plays the game right, he is respectful, he never gives up, and he is going to represent the Pacers well. He's a championship level player, a guy who can contribute to a championship team and maybe even be a focal point. He's exactly what everyone thought he couldn't be.