Tyler Hansbrough doesn’t say much, but then, he doesn’t have to. His game speaks volumes.
The shrill sounds of Hansbrough’s talent reach a fever pitch as he scores at will in the post, rips down rebounds like a hungry beast and swats shots away with the greatest of ease. It is that kind of talent that has made Hansbrough become Poplar Bluff’s all-time leading scorer and the No. 2 junior in the nation according to Rivals.com.
The hum of Hansbrough’s ability reverberated through Hearnes Center last weekend, as Hansbrough, a 6-foot-9 junior center, led his team to the Class 5A state championship, the first in school history.
Hansbrough’s ability isn’t lost on many of the nation’s best college programs, either. The constant letters from North Carolina coach Roy Williams, visits to Poplar Bluff from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and appearances at games by the Antlers, have become staples of Hansbrough’s heated recruiting chase.
Poplar Bluff coach John David Pattillo said Hansbrough is a great player for many reasons.
“I can’t say enough about what a good kid he is and how his focus is tremendous,” Pattillo said. “He is not a big rah-rah guy. He will jump up, scream and holler but it will be either before or after the game. Other than that, you won’t hear a whole lot else from him.”
Hansbrough emerged on the national recruiting scene as a sophomore. After he posted averages of 18.2 points and 8.3 rebounds, he entered the summer tournament circuit as a relative unknown. That all changed at the Nike Peach Jam Classic in Augusta, Ga., where he starred for the St. Louis Eagles, his AAU team.
It didn’t take long for word to get out on the lanky kid from Missouri. Coaches raved about his nose for the ball, intensity and desire to win. The letters, visits and scholarship offers rolled in.
As he prepared to enter his junior season, Hansbrough’s focus never shifted from basketball, despite all of the attention. He added 20 pounds to his thin frame, bulking up to 220.
Staying focused hasn’t been hard for Hansbrough, for his brother Ben, a sophomore point guard who is beginning to get attention from many top programs also, is constantly pushing his brother to get better.
Tyler and Ben lift weights and hang out quite often, but there are a couple of things they won’t do and both of them are basketball related. The brothers won’t play one-on-one, a practice their parents ended when Tyler and Ben were young, and they don’t play together unless it is a practice or game.
“We don’t shoot baskets together because he likes to have the gym to himself and I like the same thing,” Ben Hansbrough said. “We played one-on-one when he was 7 and I was 6 and I remember I beat him 15-8. We can’t play anymore because we get in fights.”
This season didn’t start the way Tyler Hansbrough wanted it, though. He suffered from tendonitis in his left Achilles heel. The injury cost Hansbrough six games at the beginning of the season, but he came back without missing a beat, torching Dexter for 38 points and 11 rebounds in his season debut. He entered the state semifinals averaging 27.2 points and 11 rebounds.
The Mules were 2-4 without Hansbrough, but when he returned, they emerged as the clear-cut favorite in Missouri, winning 23 of 25 and 16 straight to end the season. After a disappointing fourth place finish in 2003, the Mules earned the state title with a 64-56 win against Blue Springs.
Hansbrough dominated Lafayette in the semifinal with a 20-point, 11-rebound effort and followed with 23 points and 13 rebounds in the championship.
Ben Hansbrough said his brother can do little to surprise him, but there are a few good reasons Tyler has become Poplar Bluff’s prodigal son.
“Really, he’s a special player because when he gets his mind set and wants to do good, he is just dominant,” Ben Hansbrough said. “He works hard and he focuses completely. He will get his work done and then go work again.”
Hansbrough has taken official visits to North Carolina, Florida and Missouri for the Tigers’ game against UNLV. He hopes to takes two more official visits before he makes his decision and will choose from a group that includes Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona for his final trips.
Hansbrough said he will decide soon where he will take his final two visits and MU is certainly in the picture.
“I feel like I have some choices to make,” Hansbrough said. “I would say that Missouri is in a good spot, and I really liked my official visit I took here.”
The Tigers have always been an option for Hansbrough. Gene Hansbrough, his father, was All-Big Eight Conference as a high jumper in the early 1970s.
There is also constant pressure from people in Poplar Bluff, pushing Hansbrough, to go to the state school. He is not letting the pressure get to him, even though he is the highest rated player to come from Poplar Bluff, perhaps ever.
“I look at like I am going to have to spend possibly four years and I want to go to the place I can be most comfortable at,” Hansbrough said. “Some people from around my town have gone to Missouri, but I don’t think anyone has been recruited as highly as I have.”
Another reason for Hansbrough’s affection for the Tigers comes from the attention he has gotten from the Antlers, Missouri’s fan group. Many of them traveled to his games, holding signs and cheering for the Mules. A group of five Antlers made it to the championship game Saturday night, holding signs such as “Tyler could beat KU” and “Welcome home Tyler.”
As the pressure mounts on Hansbrough to make a decision, his entire town has turned its eyes to him. After watching his quiet superstar lead the Mules to their first state championship Saturday night, Pattillo reflected on how good Hansbrough is and could be.
“People are already talking about next year,” Pattillo said. “I know how much better he can be. There is no doubt that he is the most dominant player in the state of Missouri, but the thing I look forward to is how much he is going to get better this next year.”
Although winning a state championship didn’t do much to change Hansbrough’s subdued approach, the thought of him improving should be enough to make coaches all over Missouri scream.