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June 25, 2009

Pay day

Rarely has a college basketball player accomplished so much yet faced so many questions about his ability.

As surely as Tyler Hansbrough could be counted on to score a bucket or grab a rebound when needed, some critic always seemed counter with: "Yeah, but he will not be much of a pro."

After tonight, Hansbrough will get the only thing he has ever sought, a chance to prove his ability on the court. Hansbrough is one of three Carolina players expected to be selected in the first round of the 2009 National Basketball Association draft. Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington should go in the first round, while teammate Danny Green will probably hear his name called in the second round.

Coach Roy Williams will be there when the draft begins at 7 p.m., and ESPN will televise it. TarHeelIllustrated.com will have updated coverage as well.

Williams said that the proof of Hansbrough's talent will show through in the NBA as it always has -- with his production.

"Everyone says he can't do this, he can't do that," Williams said. "The only thing I know is his team won a heck of a lot of games. He won every award you can win. He is the leading scorer and leading rebounder in North Carolina history -- and we're pretty dadgum good -- he's only going to play in the NBA 10 or 12 years. He's going to make $30 to $50 million."

Hansbrough will not be the only Tar Heel with something to prove in the NBA. In some pre-draft rankings, Lawson is rated the fifth-to-seventh point guard available. Considering how Lawson dominated the competition in college, and his obvious physical gifts of speed and strength, such a downgrade appears foolish.

Ellington, meanwhile, is a more versatile player than the kid known as a shooter his freshman year. He is stronger. He rebounds at a higher level, drives with greater authority and is actually a better scorer and shooter.

He set a record for three-point shooting at the Final Four and was named the most outstanding player.

As for Hansbrough, if he does become a success in the NBA, it will not come as a surprise to anyone who watched him closely during the past four seasons. He's always received the back-handed compliment that he's a hard worker.

Well, he has an extraordinary work ethic, and that is a big reason why he will succeed. He has not stopped improving since he arrived in Chapel Hill, and it is not within his nature to slow down at this point. Former Coach Dean Smith always said that big men often improve until they are 28 or 29 years old.

If Hansbrough can do that, he will be more than just a contributor in the NBA. In the long, rich history of Carolina basketball no one may have delivered more for the program.

Hansbrough helped to keep the Tar Heels afloat in 2006 as a freshman after Carolina had lost its top seven scorers following the 2005 national title. UNC won 23 games when other teams with similar personnel losses fell apart.

Then in 2007, the Tar Heels finished tied for first in the regular season, won the ACC Tournament and made it to within overtime against Georgetown of going to the Final Four. In 2008, UNC finished first in the regular season, won the ACC Tournament again and this time the Tar Heels did go to the Final Four.

That same year, Hansbrough was named the ACC player of the year, the consensus national player of the year and an All-American for the third straight season.

This past season, he was named first-team All-ACC for the fourth time, All-American for the fourth time and he led the Tar Heels to a national championship.

"It's funny," Williams said of the critiques of Hansbrough's ability. "It's demeaning. It's ridiculous. I tell everybody all the time, 'He's a better athlete than you give him credit for.' He goes to the pre-draft camp, and what is the news out of the pre-draft camp? 'Gosh, he's a better athlete than we thought.' I kept telling them. 'Guys, he's a little over 6-8.'

"At the pre-draft camp, he's 6-8 and a quarter without shoes on. They're like, 'Gosh, almighty, he's over 6-8.' I said, 'Fellas, he can really slide his feet.' Nobody realizes that because he plays inside, but he can really slide his feet. In one of the tests, he grades out close to Tyrus Thomas of the Chicago Bulls, who is one of the most gifted big guys in the NBA."

Williams said much of the misconception is due to Hansbrough unselfishly doing what the Tar Heels needed him to do for four years. Where he played on the court and what he did to make Carolina a consistent success hid some of Hansbrough's individual talent.

"He went inside and he did all the dirty work," Williams said. "He looked a bull in a china shop. He looked uncoordinated, whatever you want to call it. But it's hard to look like a great athlete with two guys hanging on you and a referee pinching you on the arm and everything else he had to put up with."


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