According to at least two columnists we are inundated to the point of drowning with Tyler Hansbrough.
First is was Rick Morrisey of the Chicago Tribune and now Mike Freeman as CBS Sportsline are lamenting the way the media covers Tyler Hansbrough. Apparently these two guys are not comfortable with how announcers talk about Hansbrough;s intensity, the way he plays and even the size of his eyes. Here are some choice examples:
But if you want to talk about overexposure, you start with Hansbrough, who is on TV so much that, by comparison, Paris Hilton has an air of mystery to her.
It’s not his fault. He fascinates the networks in a way no 22-year-old college basketball player should. He makes the most of his considerable ability, which is why Sports Illustrated made him its national player of the year. He will be an average player in the NBA, but that’s really beside the point.
College basketball announcers seem bewitched by Hansbrough’s wide-eyed look on the court, and only further scientific study will tell us whether those eyes have gotten wider since he started realizing they were the focus of so much attention. As it stands, his eyes are bigger than Fat Albert’s stomach.
Apparently no one else in college basketball hustles the way Hansbrough does. Other players dive for loose balls, but when Hansbrough does it, you would think he were diving on a grenade to save the lives of his teammates the way the TV announcers describe it.
There is something vaguely unsettling about all this. When was the last time you heard a broadcaster talk about the work ethic and intensity of a black player? Maybe that’s overanalyzing things, but when you see other kids busting their butts on the court and getting no recognition for it, you try to understand why.
When Dick Vitale basically declared during this weekend’s Duke-North Carolina broadcast that Tyler Hansbrough displayed the most desire of any player he has seen in all the years he has been covering college basketball, for a moment — a fleeting one — I thought I was smoking crack again.
Did I hear that correctly? Boop-boop, went the TiVo. Yeah, damn, Vitale did say that.
Vitale’s television career goes back to the late 1970s, which means he has likely seen such collegiate basketball brilliance as Larry Bird, Christian Laettner, Magic Johnson, Danny Manning, Patrick Ewing, Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Larry Johnson, Chris Mullin, Tim Duncan, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson.
And Hansbrough has more “desire” than those greats?
Hansbrough’s credentials are impressive enough, but it’s hard not to give him bonus points for squeezing out every bit of his potential, for never coasting … ” writes SI. The magazine later called Hansbrough “the face of college basketball.”
Again, most college players don’t coast. Why does Hansbrough get bonus points for simply accomplishing what everyone else does? Were Kevin Durant and Greg Oden coasters? Is Georgetown’s Roy Hibbert a coaster? Name a coaster of a top player on Tennessee or Memphis or UCLA. You can’t.
And I’m trying to remember the last time a black player was called the face of college basketball. Maybe it has occurred 500 times. I just can’t remember.
The media loves Tough Whiteness, too. Never mind that college basketball is full of blue collar, intense African-American players with more desire than ability. And forget the fact that Hansbrough is an excellent, highly skilled athlete, more Larry Johnson than Rudy Ruettiger.
None of that matters. The media sees the tough white guy with the bloodied nose, scrunched up face and Hannibal Lecter mannerisms and falls in lust.
Bill Raftery is an admirable professional who is one of my favorites to watch. He’s extremely talented, but during a timeout in one North Carolina game, he said “watching Tyler Hansbrough listen is special.”
What? No, seriously, what?
I thought the media had gotten beyond the “black-guy-talented, white-guy-tough” silliness, but the coverage around Hansbrough demonstrates maybe we haven’t.
This is nothing against Hansbrough. He’s one of my favorites. He’ll probably end up as a slightly better than average NBA player — there are a thousand Hansbroughs in professional basketball — but that doesn’t take away from the good things he’s doing now.
This is the media’s fault, not Hansbrough’s.
Okay, my turn.
This might come as a shock to Freeman and Morrissey but Dick Vitale is not the only person who thinks Hansbrough is the hardest working player they have ever seen. Mike DeCourcey told Adam Gold the other morning that he wrote the same thing about Hansbrough and his editors came back to him and asked him if he was sure he wanted to write such a grandiose statement. DeCourcy said he was sure. Jay Bilas of ESPN has said the same thing of Hansbrough, more than once as I recall. Bilas played at Duke which has for years and years been the gold standard of intensity and toughness in college basketball players so there is a chance Bilas might have some insight into what true toughness and intensity looks like. Besides that, Bilas even couches his comments about Hansbrough by saying that he played against Michael Jordan and what he see in Hansbrough is much the same as he saw in Jordan.
The problem with these complaints is you have a consensus from at least three different media outlets who are all independent of one another and have no vested interest in offering the same line of thought. Bilas/Vitale, Decourcy and SI all see the same thing. Analysts on the local ACC broadcasts see it, local media in Raleigh see it and the list goes on. So when you have this many people, independent of one another, saying the same thing about a person then it is either a grand media conspiracy or it is true. Somehow I think the truth option is the more logical choice here but then again nothing written in these two columns come anywhere close to being logical.
As for the rather repulsive act of playing the race card in this discussion let me call poppycock on this idea the media does not give black players the same props when it comes to toughness. The other night during the UNC-Duke game I was watching the game with a friend(UNC fan) and I told him what Bilas and DeCourcy had said. I asked him what he thought and he said he could think of one player who did all the things Hansbrough did from a toughness/intensity perspective. His answer? Duke’s Shane Battier, who was black the last time I saw him and most certainly was when he was the National Player of the Year in 2001. Battier played great defense, he hustled, dove on the floor, took charges and Dick Vitale was in absolute love with him possibly more than he loves Hansbrough right now. I also recall Battier was the recipient of that “face of college basketball” moniker. Why? Because he was a four year player and the media tends to favor guys who stay in school 3-4 years instead of doing the 1-2 year NBA tryout route. It is difficult to see a guy like Kevin Durant or Michael Beasly as “the face of college basketball” when everyone knows they are only there because the NBA has decided to put a one year buffer in place to keep GMs from being as stupid as they were when they could draft high schoolers. The fact of the matter is Hansbrough does not looks like an NBA player, he looks like a college player and based on all accounts of his off the court life, he is very much a college student. That kind of material plays well in the media and it is hard to argue against it simply because it is overly positive and somewhat innocent in a world that is anything but those ideals.
In the end, both columnists miss out on the big picture found in Hansbrough’s statistics. Sitting here today at the conclusion of only his 3rd regular season, Hansbrough has over 2000 points and close to 900 rebounds. In an era of early entrants to the draft it is rare to see a player in only three seasons post these kinds of numbers. Production like this means Hansbrough’s work ethic and game effort must be at a fairly high level. The truth of the matter is no one posts the stats Hansbrough has without playing the game in a “special” way. And if Hansbrough returns for his senior season he will likely end it as the all time leading scorer and rebounder in North Carolina history. I don’t care who you are or the color of your skin but anyone who can eclipse those two marks at the second winningest team in all of college basketball deserves any attention he gets.