A Career of Consistency

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – When Tyler Hansbrough removes his North Carolina jersey for the final time next spring, he will be able to look back at all of his records and awards, knowing full well that his overall consistency has allowed him to become one of the greatest Tar Heels to ever don that uniform.

Looking back through the basketball features posted on InsideCarolina.com last season that I happened to pen, it dawned on me that not one of those articles focused on Hansbrough. Sure, he headlined the majority of the gamers and the postseason award stories, but never a feature.

In my own defense, there were plenty of other storylines that deserved attention in 2007-08. Bobby Frasor and Ty Lawson going down with injuries and Quentin Thomas' subsequent rise from obscurity, as well as the ever-present dissection of the Tar Heels' defense, were just a few of the topics of conversation.

And all the while, Hansbrough just kept plodding along, adding 19 double-doubles last season to lift his career mark to 35, which is 25 more than any active ACC player. The consensus National Player of the Year averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game in his junior season, including stepping up during Lawson's late-season injury absence by increasing his totals to 28.0 points and 12.1 rebounds per outing.

It was as though I had taken the big guy wearing No. 50 for granted. As odd as it sounds, Hansbrough delivering a poor performance is almost more news-worthy than a 30-point, 15-rebound showing.

But it's that level of consistency that separates the great players from the really good ones. And I'm not alone – even Wayne Ellington admitted that he sometimes expects Hansbrough to bring his "A" game every single night.

"Each and every game, you know what you're getting out him," Marcus Ginyard said. "That's something that's great for a team to know that you're going to get that out of him every single night. It's not something that you're worried about, him not coming out and performing or giving that effort… And I don't necessarily know that that's taking him for granted. I'm just confident in his ability."

That ability has put Hansbrough in a position to accomplish something that only Purdue's Paul Hoffman ('44-'47) has done, and that's earn first-team All-America honors four times. And he will undoubtedly become the first player to ever be selected to the first-time All-ACC squad in four seasons.

"The consistency is definitely a hallmark of great players, that you don't have that great play and horrible play," head coach Roy Williams said. "It is a consistency about his performance and not just his effort, because that is always going to be there. I tend to make sure that I don't assume that it's going to happen. I want to make sure that I don't say, ‘Well, we're going to get this out of Tyler.' I try to coach him just as hard as I coach Jack Wooten. In fact, I probably try to coach him harder than I do a lot of other guys, because I feel like it's my challenge to make him see that he can still improve."

Not that Hansbrough has ever needed any motivation to advance his game. This summer, the 6-foot-9, 250-pounder worked diligently on his outside shot and moving his feet on defense, while also focusing on making quicker decisions with the ball in his hands.

On Sunday at the ACC's Operation Basketball, Williams described how Hansbrough has grown frustrated with the Carmichael Auditorium renovations that have redirected the women's basketball and volleyball programs to the Smith Center for practice purposes. Instead of just showing up to work on his shot, the Poplar Bluff, Mo. product now has to check availability on the main floor.

But while others may be inclined to skip an afternoon of shooting or lifting if the facilities are in use, Hansbrough simply reconfigures his schedule. This is the same individual that missed one practice last February before a road contest at Virginia, and then promptly showed reporters after the game his big toe that looked as though it needed to be removed.

Williams indicated that he has been surprised with his star's ability to elevate his desire and focus with each passing year, but that's exactly what he's done. To do it any other way is just not his style – it wouldn't be consistent.

"He doesn't take a play off, and that's tough to do, especially when you're playing as many minutes as he does," said N.C. State forward Ben McCauley, who has squared off against Hansbrough seven times in the UNC-NCSU rivalry. "It's tough to go 100 percent every play, and he does that. That's what keeps him consistent and that's what keeps him doing so well."

Barring injury, Hansbrough will most likely score the 124 points needed to surpass Phil Ford's UNC scoring record before the Tar Heels leave Lahaina, Hawaii, in November. He also needs 602 points to supplant Duke's J.J. Redick as the ACC's all-time leading scorer, but the sheer volume of records that he will possibly break this season is too lengthy and in-depth to sift through in this column.

There are few constants in basketball. The court is 94-feet long, the basket is 10-feet high and the new 3-point line is 20-feet, 9-inches away from the goal. But with players serving as the ultimate variable, Hansbrough has tested that boundary time and time again, proving that he is the closest thing to a constant that many college basketball fans have ever seen.

With less than six months remaining before Hansbrough hangs up his North Carolina jersey for the last time, don't make the mistake of taking him for granted, because players of his caliber rarely come along.

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