As Good As It Gets

January16/ 2008

Tar Heel fans need more to brag about like Newcastle needs coal.  The average UNCer is hardwired to bombast that all good about the world emanates from Chapel Hill.  This patrician view of life quickly dissipates beyond a one mile radius of The Old Water Fountain except maybe in the case of Tyler Hansbrough.  BobLee on the raw-boned Missourian who has put the Popular in Poplar Bluff …..

Depending upon how you define “the modern era” of UNC Basketball, Tyler Hansbrough must rank among the most popular young men ever to play basketball for Carolina.  While I was not privy to the mass hysteria generated by Hook Dillon and George Glamack, I can gauge how Tyler rates with 99% of the other young men especially if we restrict ourselves to “the rafters”.

My generation started paying attention when Tommy Kearns jumped center against Wilt ….. thru the two sets of L&M guys (Larese/Moe …. Lewis/Miller) …. Rusty and Grubar’s class …. Charlie broke the barrier …. Phil and Four Corners …. “that night in New Orleans” when Michael’s jumper “made Dean a great coach” …. the post-MJ era when 30 W seasons were automatic among interchangeable players …. As Rosemary gave birth to a second baby just eight miles away.  Then “the question” was finally answered – What will happen when Dean retires?

The “what” was an era best compared to the post-Civil War South in Reconstruction.  The gut shot to the Tar Heel ego known as 8-20 caused a handful of Tar Heel fans to admit we had no “divine birthright” to basketball excellence.  “Divine birthright” was reduced to “beating Clemson in Chapel Hill”.  

As a modicum of humility threatened to take root, a Prodigal Huckleberry came home from 15 years wandering in the wilderness.  The Blue Messiah quickly quelched any developing “humility” other than his own.  He dispatched his demon monkey beginning his own era of hoop excellence …… on the broad shoulders of a rather special young man.

I am willing to crawl way out on a limb putting Tyler Hansbrough in the rarified air of  the most popular and “darn perfect packages” ever to play for Carolina.

He does not have a ring and the odds on him getting a ring are long because March is full of land mines as Dean’s just 2 rings in 35 years attest.  Ring or no ring, Tyler Hansbrough will rank as a Tar Heel immortal.

If any non-UNCers are still reading this …. why?  Let’s address the Push Me – Pull You of Tyler Hansbrough.  Depending upon the degree of blind love or loath that one holds for Tar Heel sports ….. Tyler either:

  •  Lives in the lane and is guilty of traveling, elbowing, mugging, assault & battery, jay walking, fishing without a license, driving barefooted, and tearing that tag off of every mattress ever made …. because “the darn refs” have been told to look the other way and protect Tyler because it’s Carolina ….. Or
  • On every single possession Tyler is a victim of gang violence via mugging, assaulted with a battery, kneecapped, waterboarded, hazed, whipsawed, lambasted, and nearbout beaten to within an inch of his life ….. because “the darn refs” hate Carolina and “are out to help defeat us”.

The wonderful answer to both aboves is “probably”.  Tyler “in the paint” gives as good as he gets and he knows it.  He plays a very physical brand of basketball ….. and never complains.  Tyler ….. just plays basketball full-out for 40 minutes.  No whining, no showboating.

My favorite Tyler-ism so far is his reaction in “the Gerald Henderson Incident”.   His immediate reaction to intense pain lasted about two seconds.  Then he gathered himself knowing “it’s basketball” and “wow, my nose sure bleeds a lot.”  He was fine.  The rest of Tar Heel Nation of course launched its own version of 9/11 payback with Tar Heel loonies beating their plowshares into swords to attack the demon Devils …. Tyler was just pissed he had to wear the goofy mask.  He knew Henderson did not intend to injure him.  Tyler knew it, Gerald knew it, Roy knew it, Mike knew it and I knew it.  I’d be hard-pressed to name any one else who even to this day “knew it”.

I’ve polled a number of Tar Heels over the past few weeks “about Tyler”.  Realize, of course, that I don’t bother with the Napoleon Dynamite, Al Bundy, Cliff Claven wing of Tar Heels.  My question to mainstream Tar Heels has been “is there anything about Tyler that you might change to make him even more the quintessential Tar Heel basketball hero?”

He has not hit the impossible buzzer beater in a one for the ages game ….. yet.  But otherwise he has done everything asked or imagined and done it with a stoic competitive passion that is beyond rare in a sport ruled by Sportcenter highlight hotdogs.

His pre-UNC life is a Norman Rockwell tableau.  From a one Dairy Queen town in the foothills of The Ozarks, Tyler could be Li’l Abner if Mammy & Pappy Yokum had been a beauty queen and an orthopedic surgeon respectively.  Raised in an American Graffitti theme park, there’s the “fate factor” with his brother’s illness.  He is “big” but not so big as to be “too big” …. Just a bit bigger than a regular kid.  He is a hero back home but still “just Tyler” to the locals.  There is no brand of American hero more revered than “a small town sports hero”.  

As with Daisy Mae’s swain, he had his druthers …. And he druthered leave Missouri for The Legend’s Lair and the unrelenting tutelage of The Blue Messiah.

Assuming Tyler and his dad did due diligence on Ol’ Roy they knew better than to bring his high school letter jacket and press clipping to Chapel Hill.  Ol’ Roy’s gonna be in your face if you dog it a single time …. And may just get in your face anyway.  For sure Ol’ Roy has favorites but he never shows it.  Mark it down …. Ol’ Roy will weep when Tyler walks off the hallowed hardwood that final time. 

Will Tyler be back for a fourth year?  May be.  No one would be surprised depending upon how the next 90 days play out.  Some figured him gone two years ago.  What’s his NBA future?  A 10-12 year career as a productive journeyman not unlike Montross.  A coach’s dream of solid fundamentals and a passion for the game.

After 2.5 years Tyler is approaching assorted UNC hoop records.  If he does stay for Year Four he will own most all records for his position as well as possibly a ring, or two.  Will he nudge His Airness for all-around Greatness?  Doubtful.  He would need “a magic moment” and a National Player of The Year.  Tyler’s game does not have the “WOW” of Michael’s and in that may be his real appeal.

Michael was Superman leaping tall buildings in a single bound.  Tyler is Clark Kent if Clark had been a blacksmith.  Maybe Jack Armstrong …. or Doc Savage.  The most heard NBA comparison is Dave Cowens who also was slightly under-sized for the post but made up for that with a competitive fire that roared from tip-off to the final whistle.

We know little of Tyler’s off-court life.  He is said to be “a good student” but not a scholar.  While he most assuredly has coed hearts aflutterin’ (and a few “Mrs Robinson” mammas’ too it might be assumed) he is certainly not a threat to Larry Miller’s records in that category or assorted other Tar Heel roundball romeos of note.  In the fishbowl that is Triangle sports, the “cyber tabloids” do not carry sordid tales of Tyler’s social misbehavior.  That is incredible in the Internet era where anonymous weasels delight in discrediting rival stars.  If Tyler played 8 miles away, one can imagine the character assassinations aimed his way by Franklin Street rumor rats.

Only the basketball gods know what lies ahead for the raw-boned kid from Poplar Bluff.  When they do raise his jersey into the mythical pantheon of “the rafters” we can only hope they SPELL HIS NAME CORRECTLY!  It’s Hansbrough …. Not HansbOrough.   Carolina will owe Tyler that much ….. and more.

Tangerine – Orlando ….. Bluebonnet – Houston …. Sun – El Paso.

Our tour of the Eastern Seaboard shore continues as Mizzus and I are at Hilton Head this week.  We prefer HHI’s real world convenience to Bald Head’s no frills.  Morehead may be the best combination of both however.

A pox on “the primaries”.  Yuck, ptui.  America will be best served by a balance of “power” producing governmental gridlock …..  

Memo To Steve Rivers:  Jerk a knot in Philip before next Sunday.  There is a reason that Montana, Staubach, Starr and Unitas are legends and Ryan Leaf is a whozit ….. can the rabbit ears w/ the fans.  Philip is better than that.

Memo To Mr Hedgecock:  Enjoy every moment my ol’ friend.  Your boy is doin’ good.

The latest Lonesome Dove series, Comanche Moon is “good” …. Not “great” but OK.  Larry McMurtrey “bad guys” are really really bad.


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