Monday, April 6, 2009

A Heartfelt Tribute to Psycho-T

Friends of the blog, I don't have to tell you that I'm a Duke basketball fan. I'm tied to the school and the program for life. The relationship can be contentious at times, hopeless at others, and downright bitter at its worst. Sometimes I have fantasies about packing my things, changing my name, and taking the first plane west to become a fan of a school like San Diego State. But at the end of the day, my loyalties will always lie with the Devils. It's sort of like an arranged marriage you can never leave.

That being said, there are limits. Certain things are expected of Duke fans, and one of them is that we're supposed to hate this man:

And I just can't do it. In fact, I'm starting to think he's one of my favorite athletes.

Carolina #50 is Tyler Hansbrough. For four years, he's filled the UNC power forward position, and tonight he'll play in his first national title game. It's been an amazingly distinguished career, and I'll get more into that later, but his skill and success aren't the foundations of my respect. In fact, they only make him a target for the stewing resentment constantly brewing in the core of my brain.

No, I'm a Tyler Hansbrough fan because he's a character.

That's an overused word, and one that's usually attributed to undeserving frauds with 'eccentric' habits like wearing a purple top hat in public. So let me explain my definition, and let me do it in the usual roundabout manner.

When most of us modern folk are kids, there's a point when we try to fashion ourselves into someone cool. Junior High seems to be the common proving ground. The transition is entirely understandable; we're faced with a horrible litany of social measuring sticks, and we think the only way to pass muster is by shifting our image into something more generic and hip. Some people are more successful than others, but either way it's a change from the true, natural personality we were born with. In a nutshell, that's why middle school and high school always disappoint.

If we're lucky and have a sense of humor about life, there comes a time when we stop caring about being cool. We revert to our true character, and life becomes a lot better. (Note: if you never had that moment, you're probably still a jerk.)

And when that stage arrives, when all the stupid baggage from your cool period is finally cast aside, it's packaged with a stunning revelation: some people never changed! When the rest of the idiots (and believe me, I was one of the idiots) were cloaking themselves in fake apathy or weird fashion or whatever, these few individuals stayed as constant as the tide. Everyone probably thought they were nerdy or weird, and the meanest of the bunch let them know it. But unlike the overwhelming majority, it never seemed to affect their behavior.

They didn't have a choice. With people like that, their personalities are so firmly implanted, so totally ingrained, that becoming someone different is unthinkable. They're forces of nature, in their own strange way, and asking them to change is as ridiculous as 'saying to a rainbow: hey! Stop being a rainbow for a second.' (Such is Mango)

In my book, that's a character. And Tyler Hansbrough fits (and breaks) the mold.

The first things you notice about "Psycho T" are his eyes. They're like two beaming flashlights, always wide, half-intense and half-startled. In fact, I think his eyes are the real reason people call him Psycho T. Over his career, I've seen at least ten incidents where referees rush up to him after a hard foul as though he's about to start a melee. And I don't blame them; the minute Hansbrough turns, you notice his glaring, white orbs. It's the look most of us reserve for that split second before we start throwing punches. The refs always put their hands out in a gesture of calm, brace for the explosion, and then realize, 'oh, yeah. He just looks crazy.'

The second thing you notice about Hansbrough is that he carries himself with incredible awkwardness. There has surely never been a better athlete who was so completely devoid of grace. His shoulders are always hunched forward like the tall kid at a school dance who isn't comfortable with his body. He takes long loping strides that make him look like an ostrich. In Division 1 basketball, most of the athletes have a smoothness arising from superior body control. Psycho T, on the other hand, always finds himself in poses like this:

And for all his achievements, he's still the only top-tier player who could possibly conjure this shot, from the elite 8 game against Oklahoma last weekend:

And this sequence is pure comedy:

His emotions, too, are always uniquely raw. There was a famous incident against Duke in 2007 when Gerald Henderson landed a vicious elbow that knocked Hansbrough to the floor and drew blood. It was a dirty maneuver, borne of frustration (Carolina was 14 seconds from victory), and Henderson should have been ejected and possibly suspended. In the video below, watch Hansbrough's reaction. It's a fascinating combination of child-like hurt, surprise, and the kind of anger where it seems like he might cry. There's none of the macho posturing so common to similar incidents in professional sports. There's an innocence about him that seems completely incapable of comprehending Henderson's motivation:

The best part of that, though, comes from a story I read about his brother. In it, there's a brief but revealing section about the two meeting up after that infamous game.

When he saw his younger brother in the locker room after the game 10 minutes later, Tyler Hansbrough greeted him by saying, “Dude, did you see me go after him?”

That wasn't quite my take, but damned if I can't relate. Who among us isn't intimately familiar with that awful post-crisis regret, when you want to believe you reacted better than you did? Pyscho T feels it too, and it's part of why I like him so much; he was constantly being humanized before our eyes.

He always wears his heart on his sleeve. Who else would let this kind of hurt show in a press conference?

On the flip side, his celebrations are as fantastic and hilarious as anything you'll ever see. Without question, the best of the bunch is this bizarre streaking 'dance' (?) after hitting a game-winning shot against Virginia Tech in the ACC semifinals last year.

There's really nothing quite like watching Seth Greenberg's quiet disbelief while Psycho T goes stork-stomping past.

There's a lot to like about Hansbrough. He wears #50 in honor of his older brother, who suffered a brain tumor as a kid. Which, by the way, didn't keep them from kicking each other's asses.

Greg Hansbrough took every opportunity to beat up his younger brothers. One day, Tyler Hansbrough could take the bruising no longer. “Greg, stop hitting me. Stop,” he said.

“Why?” his older brother asked.

“Because my teacher thinks I’m suffering from child abuse,” he replied.

“So I just blasted him again,” Greg Hansbrough now recalls.

He also jumped off a fraternity house last year, which sent the talking heads into an absurd (but all too predictable) frenzy.

And Psycho T freestyle raps, too. (Of course he does.) In this wonderfully awkward interview conducted with his roommate, Bobby Frasor, he lets the rhythm flow at the 4-minute mark.

Basically, Tyler Hansbrough is a loveable dork. And there aren't enough of those in sports. The reason? Unlike us regular folk, most athletes never stopped being cool. It came naturally to them, and now they make their living playing a game. They're idolized by little kids and an unhealthy number of adults. They're rich. Also, the media overanalyzes every tiny thing they do, so it doesn't behoove them to show anything of their true character. It'll just get misconstrued and wind up hurting them.

Look at Derek Jeter. He keeps a squeaky clean image with the media, alternates betweeen dating celebrities and college girls, and never says anything interesting. He's venerated, but not very compelling.

Then there's A-Rod. He also tries to keep up a certain image, but he's an idiot, so he ends up looking ridiculous. Still, his insecurity ensures that he'll never stop chasing that elusive 'cool.'

The preponderance of athletes are like A-Rod or Jeter. Someone like Hansbrough, someone real and completely himself (however odd), is a gift. So without further ado, my toast to a great player and a greater character:

Psycho T, you're a goofball. You're also the ACC's all-time leading scorer, and you've made more foul shots than any other player in NCAA history. You'll finish your career averaging around 20 points per game. And in 4 years, you never once lost at Cameron Indoor Stadium. You owned us.

And even though I'm supposed to hate you, I can't help but think you're great- great for sports, and great for fans. I hope you win your first title tonight. As a Dukie, that's not easy for me to say. But you deserve it, and you will be missed.


  1. This is the best article I've ever read on T Hans. From a Dookie no less.

    You, Sir, deserve a tip of the hat

  2. Seriously. This is an excellent post. Moving and insightful.

    I'm a Tar Heel, and I'm no fan of Duke...but I've always thought it was rather sad that we can't admire what's truly admirable about each other's teams. You'll never find me defending, say, Laettner or Singler...but there have been many Duke players for whom I've had fondness and admiration.

    Seriously, man. This is a great post, and a laudable step in the direction of a return to sanity concering the overly vitriolic UNC-Duke rivalry.

  3. It's a respect thing as much as it is a hate thing. We hate them because they are good, and have been good for a long time now. They feel the same way about us.

    This was a great article. Shows some real thinking and some real heart.

  4. this would be great, except i think you just exhausted the supply of "rational, unbiased thought expressed by a fan of duke" for the year. its only april...

  5. Bobby Fraser should have been in charge of interviewing the players after last night's win. Nancy was a joke and couldn't get comfortable answers out of anyone.

  6. Great article, this Duke fan liked it. He's a classy individual, who we duke fans would've LOVED(and UNC fans would've HATED) if he had came here instead.

    Great read.

  7. This is a ridiculously good post and I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that a dookie wrote it.

  8. "This is a ridiculously good post and I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that a dookie wrote it."

    Word. Possibly the most insightful article ever written about Tyler comes from a dookie? Just proves the two schools have some weird cosmic beyond that goes way beyond the obvious. What next, a Miss NC from Duke?

  9. I love all the backhanded compliments throughout this article. Truly written by a dookie.

  10. An incredible insight into a true character. Very well done sir.

  11. I'm a Tar Heel - this article makes me incredibly proud of the nature of this rivalry. Thanks for bridging the gap. =]

  12. Excellent article. However, my head just exploded as I contemplated that this was written by a dookie.

    You "get it" more so than many Heel fans, all the media, and 99% of opposing fans. Well played.

  13. Excellent post. I'm a Duke fan as well and I can't help but have the upmost respect for Hansbrough. All I can say is that I'm glad to see him go.

  14. i get the feeling you want to sleep with him.

  15. I will pile on the compliment train (uggh to a Dookie) Incredibly insightful and spot on. Tyler is without a doubt a hayseed from Missouri who really is a unique character in the highly polished world of major sports for his unsmoothness(Word?) With the problems and incarcerations so commonplace, he is a welcome respite.

  16. You got a link to Inside Carolina... which is why I and probably others are here. Anyway, REALLY well done!


  18. I like this post a lot. as a Tar Heel, I can't help but look across the street and respect true talent and true character when I see it. Always felt that way about Shane Battier and Grant Hill at dook. They were both really hard to not like.

    Well written, and funny. Thanks.

  19. I never, and I mean NEVER, post comments on blogs. Further, as a former Tar Heel athlete and alum, and someone who was born and raised in Boston and who lives in Boston now, and has a passion for all things both Tar Heels and Boston sports - I am diametrically opposed to EVERYTHING you are as a person. I simply cannot reconcile the fact that YOU wrote this about my beloved Hansbrough. It is at once insightful, thoughtful, respectful, and kind. You are truly an EVIL scuzzball. I salute you!

    Go Heels! Go Sox, Pats, Celts, and Bruins!

  20. As a life-long Tarheel, I couldn't be prouder of the Heels and of Tyler. But for some reason, I never have really warmed up to him. I finally figured out last season that the reason I couldn't find it in my heart to love Hansborough is he looks and acts like a Dookie. He's basically a Dookie that somehow ended up at Carolina. If he played for anyone else I'd hate his guts. I can't take another post-game interview, is he even literate? And his suits: He looks like a twelve year old dressed as an NFL analyst for Halloween. Roy needs to get the dress code in check! I know I sound ungrateful because Tyler has done awesome things for the Heels. I'm just saying I totally understand why so many people hate him.

  21. I was about to post "Great post for a Duke fan," but no, this is a great post, period. Thank you for writing it!

  22. Classic. I've loved Psycho from his freshman to his senior year and every moment in between, but I couldn't have verbalized my sentiments any better. Most of the great UNC and Duke players are "hated" because they are so good. Some players (in my mind) find a way to rise above even this, as appears to be the case here and with a lot of tar heels the guy we can't hate is Grant Hill. Anyways, great stuff here, well done.

  23. Dude, this is mentally draining. I for one abhor Dookies and what they stand for. To make it worse, I live next door to one. I had managed to despise all things dook and equate them to the evil empire and the anti-Christ. Then, over the last few years, I have found myself actually enjoying listening to Jay Bilas on ESPN. Oh God, what is happening to me? Then I watch that Tobacco Road special on HBO and good Lord, even that little weasel JJ Riddick starts to look nearly human. Then I hear he even called Tyler and offered congrats on breaking the record and advice on how to handle the pressure. What’s next, the Apocalypse?

    And now this. You come along and not only pen an accurate picture of all that is good, true and enduring about Tyler but you actually make me laugh. Hard. More than once.

    I am at a loss. All that was right with the world is now in question. Is there really an alternate universe and I have crossed over last night as I slept in my bed peacefully basking in the afterglow of the dismantling of the Spartans? Are you some demon sent from Hell to lure us Tar Heels into a false sense of security, making us believe that some dookies are not subhuman?????

    Only time will tell. Until then, keep up the good work.

  24. I don't know that I've ever heard of a player who's quite as polarizing as Hansbrough is - as a Carolina undergrad, I'm a huge fan, and I've always found it hard to believe that people found a way to hate a player who's certainly not the most gifted athlete ever to step foot on the floor, but who excels because of his work ethic and sheer determination. I try to be respectful of players on other teams, and my experience with Duke fans hasn't always been the greatest, but I'm glad to see that there are Dookies doing that, as well.

    Thanks very much for a highly entertaining post.

  25. Love love love the Tyler interview video, hes a pretty cool dude. His GF and I used to work together in our home town and shes brought him by a few times, although I was unfortunately never around to meet him :(

    Are you sure your a Duke fan? You have a sense of humor and I don't often find them in those dookies ;)

  26. Comments from my fellow UNC fans about your Dookiness aside (you invited them), this is a great post, a far better profile of the man than the one I read in the New York Times earlier this week. You've captured why Psycho T will be remembered round these parts by people who love basketball whether or not they love UNC, when no one thinks about colorless but equally or more talented players like Antawn Jamison.

    Fine writing. Give yourself a pat on the back.

  27. Excellent article sir. You just said what every UNC fan such as myself has been thinking since the day Tyler set foot on campus. He's the most driven and prolific goober to ever play Carolina ball, and we love him all the more for it. Thanks for the props...I hate Duke a little bit less after reading this. (just a little) :)

  28. You've crystallized it perfectly. I've thought for all four years that I've never seen such a great player look so awful on so many plays. He gets blocked, he misses open shots, he gets stripped of the ball time after time. And he just kept coming back for more. Because he's a dork, just like 90% of us!

  29. Great post. First time I saw Hansbrough, I thought there is no way this guy can make that baseline, double-clutch shot from the hip on a consistent basis. But I'll be damned if the shots didn't keep going in. Again. And again. And again. Whether he makes it at the next level is not important. He leaves behind a legacy for all college players that says you don't have to be graceful to be great.

  30. I, too, enjoyed reading the post. For those of you who like this sort of thing, you should read Will Blythe's "To Hate Like This is to be Happy Forever". It's a book written by a Carolina alum and New York Times journalist that essentially takes this same perspective on the Carolina-Duke rivalry while chronicling the 2005 National Championship via the eyes of Melvin Scott. It does a great job of explaining why the rivalry is at once glorified and tainted by hate but at the same time very rewarding for the entire state. There is even a great piece about Coach K (gasp!), although he refers to him as "Rat Face". For anyone who is a fan of college basketball it is a wonderful and insightful read. Maybe you, Mr. Seth Curry Blogger, should think of doing the same from the Duke perspective.

  31. Class....pure class ! Great post and insite.

  32. you are a keen observer, but even better at converting what you do see into pleasantly digestible prose.... not sure if you are incisive enough (because of lack of quantity of material read and because not sure i am qualified to judge) to be a stand-up comedian, but you may want to give it a run...

  33. why cant duke recuit white guys like him

  34. That was written by a closet UNC fan. Ha ha. You have to give it to this writer- he hit the nail on the head. Hansbrough is refreshing to see in the world of basketball- and UNC was lucky to have him. The one thing I can add to this is that as UNC fans-and myself in particular- much of the hate for dook comes from how we feel about their head coach. I have followed the rivalry and been a UNC fan while Bubas was coach, Bucky Waters, Bill Foster, Neil Donahue (I believe), and now Shoechefski. I have never known as much about a guy and hated him as much as I do coach K. He is the antithesis of class and character- and I believe he will never change. dook has a tradition of good players- and some of them I have respected-Hill, Amaker, Bob Verga, Mike Gminski and a few more, but K while being the most successful cog at dook- is the worst person to come out of Durham. Coach K, Laettner, and Chrissy Collins are the same person by the way. They just have 3 different bodies they appear in. All 3 are subhuman in the character department. Sorry, I couldn't let that go unsaid.