Tyler Hansbrough could seemingly do anything he wanted while becoming of the one of the most decorated players in college basketball history. He was a four-time All-America and a four-time All-Atlantic Coast Conference pick at North Carolina. He also became the only player in ACC history to lead his team in scoring and rebounding for four seasons. Finally, he led the Tar Heels to the national championship last season after deciding against coming out early for the NBA Draft following his junior year.
However, things are different for Hansbrough in his first season in the NBA. The forward isn’t in the Indiana Pacers’ starting lineup and playing on an injury-riddled team that has lost 10 of its last 11 games to fall to last in the Central Division with a 6-13 record.
Yet Hansbrough has learned the virtue of patience.
“The difference between college basketball and the NBA is unbelievable,” Hansborough said. “I knew it would be a different game but I don’t think anything really prepared you to make this jump until you actually go through it. I played college basketball for one of the best programs in the country at the highest level and, honestly, it really doesn’t compare to pro ball. I’m learning a little more every day and it’s going to take time before the adjustment is complete.
Hansbrough is averaging 7.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 15.8 minutes in his first 15 games, missing four games with a shin injury that dates back to last season. He has a 100.0 Offensive Rating and a 105.0 Defensive Rating. Pacers coach Jim O’Brien has been limiting Hansbrough’s minutes because of the injury.
“We’ve got him on a pitch count, so we haven’t been able to fully turn him loose yet,” O’Brien said. “At this stage, he probably needs to be brought along in steps. He has a lot of talent and he always gives a great effort but he still has a lot to learn at this level, like how to execute the pick-and-roll to get more open looks. The learning curve is pretty sharp for a rookie and Tyler is going through that right now.”
Despite standing 6-foot-9 and weighing 250 pounds, Hansbrough has been outmuscled by bigger and faster forwards in the NBA. However, an even bigger adjustment has come on the mental side of the game.
“There are so many sets to learn, so many things to remember,” Hansbrough said. “It can become a little overwhelming at times. In college, it was basically go out and play hard and win the game. At this level, a lot more goes into winning and losing.”
Hansbrough did record his first pro double-double in Wednesday’s 102-91 loss to the Trail Blazers with 13 points and 11 rebounds in a season-best 22:08 of playing time.
“It feels good to get a double-double but I believe I have the talent to average a double-double in this league, so this is just one step forward,” Hansbrough said. “I’ve still got a long way to go to be the type of player I know I can be.”
Hansbrough figures to get more opportunities as forward Danny Granger, the Pacers’ leading scorer with a 24.4 average, is expected to be out until mid-January with torn plantar fascia in his right foot. The Pacers are confident Granger can avoid surgery. However, if he does need an operation, he would likely miss the rest of the season.
“It’s tough,” Pacers point guard T.J. Ford said. “You never want to see anybody get hurt. You definitely want everybody to play 82 games. Is that realistic on an NBA team? I don’t think so. Hopefully, he can get healthy because we’re definitely going to need him down the stretch.”
The Pacers went 9-6 without Granger last season but are spiraling downward without him this year.
“You hate to lose anybody, certainly Danny, who is an All-Star caliber player, and to lose him leaves a big hole that cannot be filled by any individual,” O’Brien said. “It has to be filled by the collective group When it comes right down to it, you have to go out and win basketball games with whoever you have playing.”
Portland Battles Injury
The Portland Trail Blazers’ injury list now runs so long that even head coach Nate McMillan is on it. He underwent surgery for a ruptured Achilles tendon that he suffered when he suited up for practice so the Trail Blazers would have enough bodies to scrimmage.
McMillan is missing the Trail Blazers’ four-game road trip that finishes with games against the Cavaliers tonight and the Bucks on Saturday.
“That’s just the type of guy Nate is,” Trail Blazers guard Brandon Roy said. “We were down a lot of bodies, he wants to get out there and play. It’s just too bad his body couldn’t hold up, though. It says a lot, though. He cares about this team.
Lead assistant Dean Demopoulos has been running the team in McMillan’s absence.
“I wish Nate weren't hurt,” Demopoulos said. “We're all going to have to do our jobs and do our best. When you lose your best player, when you lose a leader, everybody else has to step in. It's the same thing here. All the coaches will step up and step in, and the players will, too. We'll try to play in Nate's image.”
North Carolina Alumni Battle on Sidelines
When the Charlotte Bobcats beat the Denver Nuggets 107-95 on Tuesday night, it marked the latest installment in a friendly rivalry between winning coach Larry Brown and George Karl, his losing counterpart. They are both North Carolina graduates and close friends.
“Once the game starts, you actually have a little more playoff-type intensity,” Karl said. “It’s fun, not hard to coach against a friend.”
Brown first coached in the NBA with the Nuggets in 1976-77 and Karl began his coaching career with the Cavaliers in 1984-85. However, they didn’t face each other for the first time until the 1991-92 season. Brown was coaching college basketball at Kansas when Karl began his NBA coaching career and Karl was out of the league when Brown returned to the NBA in 1988.
“We've been doing it a long time, so I don't think there are changeups or tricks up our sleeve,” Karl said.
Popovich Doesn't Doubt Referees
Former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who admitted to betting on games and spent time in prison for interstate gambling crimes, is making the rounds of talks shows to promote his new book. However, San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich isn’t paying much attention to Donaghy’s press tour and doesn’t believe NBA officials are crooked.
“A lot of people have worked very hard over the years to bring this sport to where it is right now,” Popovich said. “For anybody to think that it is not on the up and up really is offensive. If I thought it wasn't on the up and up and I didn't have any control over outcomes, I wouldn't be doing it. It would be kind of a waste of time.”
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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