Tar Heels Led By ‘Psycho T'

RALEIGH, N.C. — Tyler Hansbrough did exactly what Tyler Hansbrough does Friday night, sprawling on the floor for a loose ball near North Carolina's bench in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

He got to it moments before two Mount St. Mary's players, clutched the ball, managed to flip over on his backside and fought violently before the whistle blew.

After a referee called a foul on the Mountaineers, Hansbrough glared at his foes, examined thick scratches the skirmish produced on his right arm, walked over to the Tar Heels bench and sat down during a timeout.

"That's every game, every practice, whatever," North Carolina guard Marcus Ellington said with a shrug, explaining Hansbrough's role in the scrum. "That's just how he plays. When he plays basketball, that's it."

Arkansas will face its fiercest challenge when it plays top overall seed North Carolina in the second round of the NCAA Tournament today at 4:15 p.m.

The 6-foot-9, 250-pound Hansbrough is a three-time All-American and the odds-on favorite to win national player of the year honors after averaging 22.9 points and 10.2 rebounds. But the thing that has left the biggest impression on the nation is his madman persona.

Hansbrough has a fondness for physical play. He wills his way to points and rebounds with his unmatched intensity.

"He's not the biggest guy in the world," Arkansas coach John Pelphrey said. "He's not the fastest. He doesn't jump the highest. He's not the most fluid, smooth guy. But I tell you one thing, he has got unbelievable heart, a passion for it. It means a lot to him.

"He is ferocious and that sometimes is a hard thing to develop a game plan for."

In other words, the cuts, scrapes and scratches Hansbrough took away from North Carolina's easy, 113-74 win against Mount St. Mary's weren't unusual.

North Carolina junior Marcus Ginyard, who lives with Hansbrough, said the big man's intensity was evident the first moment he stepped on campus. The Tar Heels were playing pickup games during the summertime and Hansbrough was fighting, scraping and clawing then.

He was so fiery Ginyard's first thought was to tell the maniacal freshman to calm down. But he thought better of telling a player later nicknamed "Psycho T" by North Carolina's strength coach to take it easy.

Three years later, North Carolina has already announced it will retire Hansbrough's jersey. And the Tar Heels know his intensity, energy and, well, touch of insanity are what have helped make them national title favorites.

"I think that it's overlooked a lot of times how much energy this team draws off of Tyler," Ginyard said. "The fact that he goes out there each and every night and lays his body on the line and gives his heart and soul for this team, we all understand that if this guy is giving that much effort, we're cheating him, we're cheating ourselves not to push ourselves as hard as he is for this team."

The most infamous example has become an iconic moment in North Carolina hoops history.

Hansbrough caught a nasty elbow from Duke's Gerald Henderson last season, which resulted in a broken nose and a bloody scene. The carnage didn't keep Hansbrough off the court long, though. He returned to the game and played with cotton swabs stuffed in his nose.

A picture of the moment hangs in North Carolina's weight room. North Carolina coach Roy Williams even keeps a copy in his office.

Hansbrough grinned when asked to revisit the story once again Saturday. He has the picture somewhere, too, but insists he doesn't try to show it off all the time.

"People come (to the weight room) and don't realize how bloody (the picture) is," Hansbrough said. "But I really don't keep a lot of them to show around. I'm not going to make a copy and hand it to everybody on the team and tell them, ‘This is how I want you to play.'"

He doesn't have to. It's clear his teammates have the moment — and the message — memorized.

"It rubs off a lot just the intensity he brings and how hard he goes," Ellington said. "He makes you want to play just as hard and bring some more intensity to the table."

Another sign of Hansbrough's toughness: He leads in the nation in free-throw attempts (349). To put the number in perspective, Arkansas' five frontcourt players — Darian Townes, Steven Hill, Charles Thomas, Vincent Hunter and Michael Washington — have shot 373.

Hansbrough takes a beating on a nightly basis and admits the contact can be taxing. But he shrugged off the nicks and bruises he picked up against the Mountaineers on Friday.

"I think this cut was bleeding the most just to be honest with you," Hansbrough said, pointing to a small gash on his left knuckles. "It's tough sometimes to cover up blood because you've got to come out of the game and then you have to do some stuff to it. But you try your best."

So Hansbrough will dive on the floor against the Hogs tonight. He'll fight for loose balls. He'll do everything in his power to keep the Tar Heels on pace for a championship.

"As soon as it's game time, as soon as it comes to his mind, he gets that look in his eye," Ellington said. "He's ready to go out there and give it his all."

Tyler Hansbrough

Class: Junior

Position: Forward

Height: 6-foot-9

Weight: 250 pounds

Hometown: Poplar Bluff, Mo.

Notables: First ACC player since Sam Perkins (1982-84) to become a three-time, first-team All-American. ... Ranks third on North Carolina's career scoring list (2,088 points). ... Has started 102 of 103 career games. ... Younger brother, Ben, plays at Mississippi State.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories