If you closed your eyes this weekend and listened to the crowd noise at Mizzou Arena, you could almost picture him in black and gold.
McDonald’s All-American and North Carolina recruit Tyler Hansbrough spent the weekend in Columbia trying to lead Poplar Bluff to its second consecutive state championship.
Before deciding on Carolina blue, Hansbrough nearly chose to play for Missouri.
“I was seriously considering (coming to) Missouri,” Hansbrough said. “They were one of my finalists.”
Top programs nationwide recruited Hansbrough, an athletic 6 feet 9 inches and 250 pounds. Hansbrough narrowed his prospects to North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas and Missouri.
His talent and ability to dominate the interior made forgoing collegiate basketball in favor of the NBA a possibility, something Hansbrough considered before deciding to realize a life-long goal.
“(Entering the NBA draft) was just an option,” Hansbrough said. “Something that I always wanted to do is play college basketball and I wanted to go to school.”
Hansbrough, who on his Web site, tyler50.com, lists the Tigers as his favorite team growing up, said the recruiting by Missouri assistant coach Marcus Perez was a reason he nearly stayed in state.
And as decision time neared last summer, people close to Hansbrough said it looked as though he would be playing in Columbia.
“With the kind of schools he was selecting from, there wasn’t a lot of ways he could go wrong,” Poplar Bluff coach John David Pattillo said. “At one time, I really thought he would (choose Missouri), but things just didn’t work out that way.”
Hansbrough decided instead to take his promising game to North Carolina, hoping to see it flourish under the tutelage of Roy Williams and his staff.
Hansbrough said the main reasons for his decision were “my relationship with coach Williams and the chance to play at a big-time college. He’s the coach that I thought could develop me the best.”
Meanwhile, Missouri men’s basketball missed out on a top-flight prospect, a rare combination of exceptional talent and old-fashioned hustle, from a city less than 200 miles from campus.
“I’ve had a lot of people come and talk to me about how hard he plays,” Pattillo said. “He’s just relentless on the floor, added to that he’s 6-9 and a very good athlete.”
Although the hype surrounding Hansbrough didn’t end with his announcement last August (ESPN televised a Poplar Bluff game in early December), things have calmed down for the appreciative prospect.
“It’s a lot more at ease, I know where I’m going,” he said. “I don’t have to deal with what I dealt with last year.”
Hansbrough’s game continued to improve through his senior season.
He is averaging 28 points and 12 rebounds, and his coach thinks the absence of hysteria helped him throughout the season.
“I see (a difference) as far as being able to enjoy himself away from the floor, without the burden of the recruiting process and all the attention from media,” Pattillo said. “That’s a lot of weight off one’s shoulders.”
Despite opting not to play for Missouri, Hansbrough made himself at home in Columbia this weekend, scoring 60 points and grabbing 35 rebounds in two games to determine the state championship.
Hansbrough said he didn’t anticipate his decision not to attend Missouri to prompt a hostile reaction from any Tigers fans sitting in the crowd this weekend, and, apart from the intense ribbing expected of opposing fans, he wasn’t subjected to any jeering.
Ultimately, Hansbrough said he enjoyed his time at Mizzou Arena, even if it was short-lived.
“It’s is a lot nicer (than the Hearnes Center),” Hansbrough said. “One of the nicest arenas, there’s not much more you can ask for.”
Except maybe an address in Chapel Hill.