Very few elite athletes have experienced some of the highs and lows that Tyler Hansbrough has in the last two years. The 2007-2008 consensus national Player of the Year came into the league as the thirteenth pick in the 2009 NBA Draft with some lofty expectations.
An inner ear infection, coupled with a concussion, limited his rookie season to just 29 games, in which he averaged a respectable 8.5 points per game and just under five rebounds a game. His PPG went up only three points in 2011, but he came on strong in the second half of the season, posting double-digit scoring in a stretch of 13 consecutive games. That run included a career high 30 points against the Knicks in March, by which time he had scrapped and clawed his way into the Pacers starting lineup in typical "Psycho T" fashion.
It certainly caught the eye of Indiana interim coach Rick Vogel: "You see how scrappy and hard this team is playing. It really all starts with Tyler and Jeff Foster, and the energy that those guys bring every time they are on the basketball court. They play so hard, that the energy is contagious through the rest of our guys. So that's the biggest factor with Tyler."
In the first part of our interview, Hansbrough reflected on his two seasons in Indiana.
What's it been like to finally get in a full season?
"It's been a roller coaster from that aspect, of dealing with trying to come back from the biggest injury of my life, and learning that you're not going to come back immediately and be your old self. It's going to take time. It took me time to kind of work through things and finally get in the rotation, and start helping the team and finally move into the starting lineup.
"Now I feel great. It's been everything. This is what the NBA is supposed to be about. Playing and competing and winning ball games, and now I feel like I'm part of the team, and helping to do that."
"Nothing. I was so injured I wasn't focused on basketball; I was trying to be happy and get healthy. I wasn't thinking about what I could do to help the team. None of that was on my mind; I was so out of it."
How do you feel about being able lead with your toughness and "scrappiness?"
"That's kind of what I've always done. Even back in my days at Carolina. Come out there and hustle. Try to get loose balls, and make those huge energy plays and give the team a boost. I finally feel like I'm doing this at the NBA level."
What kinds of things have you been working on with your game?
"Expanding my game as far as being able to use my off hand around the basket, I would say expanding my jump shot. It's something that has really helped me. The more I can get used to shooting that mid-range, and possibly moving back and building some NBA three-point range would better my game."
What did you find as some of the biggest differences between college and the NBA?
"I think just learning the defensive schemes, and getting used to the NBA defensive style. There are so many different things you do off of pick and rolls, and it's a learning process. Honestly, the hardest thing about the NBA is knowing all the plays. There are so many plays, and so many things that you have to know on the fly. Just memorizing all those plays."
What good advice have you received from veterans?
"Jeff Foster is always telling me to keep working hard and keep preparing, and things will come your way."
You do know the guy in the McDonald's commercial with LeBron James and Dwight Howard?
"Yeah. [chuckles] I definitely know who that guy is. [team President Larry Bird] He's my boss. I don't joke with him or anything. It's strictly [business.] If he's says something to me, I'm going to listen to it and change my game."
What's it like having someone such as Larry Bird around?
"It's great, because any tip he gives you you're going to listen to. He's been there, done that. You have to listen to a guy like that, but he's my boss, and if he wants me to do something for the better, I'm going to do it."
For his part, Bird acknowledged Hansbrough's role with the team during a press conference last year. "He's very valuable to what we're trying to do here. I'm not gong to sit here and tell you he's going to be a superstar, but he's going to be a very good player." Bird added, "He can play in this league." Of that there is no longer any doubt.
Check back tomorrow for Part II…