This article incorrectly referred to University of North Carolina basketball center Tyler Hansbrough as a four-time first-team all-American. He has been named to the Associated Press all-American first team twice.
Feinstein: The Player the Fans Most Love to Hate
Tyler Hansbrough's statistics are mind-boggling. He is a four-time first-team all-American. He is the Atlantic Coast Conference's career-leading scorer with 2,836 points entering Saturday's Final Four game here against Villanova. He has been the ACC player of the year and the national player of the year. He has been praised to the heavens by everyone who ever picked up a microphone for his "fanatical work ethic."
So how is it possible that he can be underrated?
"I'd call it under-appreciated," Connecticut Coach Jim Calhoun said Thursday. "When someone does things at a special level for a long time, you tend to take them for granted after a while. The first time you hear Pavarotti sing you go, 'Oh my God, listen to that voice.' You go back and hear it again and again and it's still great, but you don't get quite as excited about it as you did the first time.
"I think that's happened with Tyler. He gets a double-double, runs the floor, makes plays all over the place and people say, 'Yup, seen that before.' Maybe you have, but it doesn't make what he's doing any less remarkable."
Hansbrough averaged 20.9 points and 8.1 rebounds this season even though he is frequently double-teamed and often has to create a lot of his own offense with rebounding his teammates' misses. He finished third in the balloting for ACC player of the year -- behind teammate Ty Lawson and Florida State's Toney Douglas -- and there is no question that Lawson has been the sensation of the NCAA tournament so far for the Tar Heels.
Hansbrough is the player people most love to hate. Every time he takes a charge, people scream, "Flop!" Whenever he goes to the foul line, it is because referees won't allow him to be touched. Every time Dick Vitale and his cohorts go ga-ga over him, many watching want to gag.
"People forget that a guy like him makes the other guys look better," Maryland Coach Gary Williams said. "I saw a lot of people talking and writing about how he only got eight points against Oklahoma. Fine, Oklahoma slowed him down -- but who won the game? Carolina, going away. Why? Because Oklahoma had to give up something to guard Hansbrough and the other Carolina kids had open shots all day. There's not a statistic for that. People may not appreciate the guy, but I guarantee you coaches do."
When Hansbrough was asked Thursday about being "hated" by opposing fans, he smiled. "There's a reason they hate you," he said. "I know no one in the ACC likes me because we've dominated the ACC the last few years. When you're a good player at Carolina, you know you're going to get a lot of attention. The people who don't like Carolina aren't likely to be fans of yours."
It goes beyond that with Hansbrough, though -- or so it would seem. Some of it is people getting tired of hearing how hard he works and plays. Some of it, no doubt, is racial. There was a good deal of backlash a year ago when Hansbrough finished ahead of Kansas State's Michael Beasley in the national player-of-the-year balloting even though the consensus was that Beasley was a far better pro prospect. There were murmurs -- some of them fairly loud -- that the white media had latched on to Hansbrough as the latest Great White Hope.
"I don't know that I see it that way," North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said. "But I do think when people hear all the time about how hard Tyler works -- and he does -- there's a tendency to think that's his only skill. It's not, by a long shot. I think if you look at the player he is now as compared to four years ago, there's no comparison."
The racial code words are always out there. The white player is a "hard worker"; the African American player has great "athletic ability." The white player is "fundamentally sound"; the African American player can leap out of the gym.