HoopsHype.com Interviews

Hansbrough's debut a hit
by John Denton / July 7, 2009

Tyler Hansbrough - Steve KylerAssuredly, there are those who fully expect to see Tyler Hansbrough, a four-time college All-American and the all-time leading scorer in Atlantic Coast Conference history, flop in the NBA.

But he does have one rather influential supporter of his unorthodox style of play as a gangly, hustling power forward: Indiana Pacers’ president/general manager Larry Bird.

With Bird sitting courtside Monday at the Orlando Pro Summer League and offering up tips and encouragement throughout, Hansbrough made his professional debut with the Pacers. His first pro game was a hit with 17 points and five rebounds in 25 minutes as Indiana beat the combined team of New Jersey/Philadelphia 75-67 in overtime.

Hansbrough came off the bench for the first time since his days in middle school in Missouri, but what he will remember most is the steady diet of encouragement offered up to him by Larry Legend.

``That’s big to have Larry Bird supporting you. If you’re going to listen to anyone, you listen to a legend,’’ Hanbrough said. ``If you can’t listen to him, you don’t belong on the basketball court.’’

Hansbrough, the 13th overall pick of the first round of the NBA Draft, didn’t have to listen to nearly as many taunts about his basketball skills on Monday as he did the last time he was on the court. A crowd of more than 70,000 fans attended college basketball’s national championship game between North Carolina and Michigan State, and most of them were Spartans fans trying to get under the skin of the former college Player of the Year.

There were roughly 350 scouts, coaches and players in attendance on Monday, and the only person taunting Hansbrough was Philadelphia center Marreese Speights. The two big men had to be separated early in the game after getting tangled up under the boards. Throughout his career, Hansbrough used the taunts and questions about his skills to drive him to play even harder, and Monday’s incident with Speights just served as more motivation.

``It was a change. There weren’t a lot of people in the stands yelling at me, telling me how bad I was,’’ Hansbrough said of the sparse crowd where the pulic wasn’t allowed to attend. ``I had kind of gotten used to that. It always motivated me.’’

Hansbrough was hardly the only impressive rookie from the three opening-day games at the Orlando Pro Summer League. Here’s a recap of the studs and duds from the three games.

GAME 1: Indiana Pacers 75, Philadelphia 76ers/New Jersey Nets 67 (OT)

STUDS: Like with Hansbrough, many have wondered if Roy Hibbert will ever been a standout NBA player because of his raw, mechanical skills on the offensive end of the floor. But the 7-foot-3 center capped a solid showing Monday with a towering hook shot with 58 seconds remaining to tie the game and force overtime. For the game, Hibbert had 12 points on six of 10 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds and swatted a shot.

As for Hansbrough, Indiana coach Jim O'Brien designed a shot for the power forward with 13 seconds to play in regulation, but his fall-away attempt along the baseline was short after he was clearly fouled, but didn’t get a whistle.

Said Hansbrough: ``I feel like I get fouled on every play, but I’m biased.’’

DUDS: Yes, Marrese Speights had 28 points, the high-point total for the day, but new Philadelphia coach Eddie Jordan was none too pleased that the young center needed 26 shots to score those 28 points. He made just 11 of 26 tries and even hoisted two 3-pointers – much to the dismay of Jordan.

``Stats don’t mean a lot; I’d like to see him execute better on both ends of the floor,’’ Jordan said. ``He should have been closer to the basket (instead of shooting 3-pointers).’’

Terrence Williams, the No. 11 pick of the draft, had a forgettable first day on the job in the NBA. He missed seven of eight shots, turned the ball over twice and committed three fouls. He often looked unsure of himself and struggled at times against bigger wing players.

Cracked one particularly diminutive NBA head coach: ``If Terrence Williams is 6-foot-6, then I’m 6-4.’’

GAME 2: Oklahoma City Thunder 88, Orlando Magic 77

STUDS: As he was much of last year in the Orlando Summer Camp, Russell Westbrook was the best player on the floor. He got in the lane whenever he wanted to against the Magic’s smallish guards, leading to 18 free throw attempts (16 makes) and nine assists. He finished with 22 points and five rebounds. And already he and top rookie James Harden, the No. 3 overall pick in the NBA Draft, are forming a nice chemistry.

Twice Harden buried 3-pointers off nifty drive-and-kick passes from Westbrook. And the sweet-shooting left-hander from Arizona State showed a toughness in traffic, twice converting tough baskets after getting hammered by opposing big men.

The Magic’s studs were in the crowd with Dwight Howard, Vince Carter and Marcin Gortat yucking it up together during the game. Howard and Carter have talked for years about playing together, and now following the blockbuster trade between the Nets and Magic, they will get that chance. Gortat likely won’t be around for that union as he will sign a five-year, $33 million offer sheet from the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, a contract the Magic aren’t expected to match on the restricted free agent.

DUDS: Wesbrook took a hard fall early in Monday’s game when he was clobbered on a layup attempt and stayed on the floor for a few seconds. Don’t count on seeing the blossoming star here all week – even if Kevin Durant makes another cameo appearance this year.

Shaun Livingston is still trying to come back from the devastating knee injury he suffered two seasons ago, but he’s still just a shell of the player he once was. He’s still favoring his leg and you have to wonder if he’ll ever play in the NBA again.

GAME 3: Boston Celtics 87, Utah Jazz 56

STUDS: Lester Hudson, the nation’s second-leading scorer at Tennessee-Martin, is under no illusions why he’s on the Boston Celtics summer league team. ``Danny Ainge and Doc (Rivers) have told me that I’m a scorer and they expect me to score for them,’’ Hudson said. ``So when I come off the pick-and-roll and I’m open, I’m looking to score.’’ Hudson had 11 points in 19 minutes with nine of those points coming in one electric eight-minute stretch. His ability to score from the point guard slot, something Stephon Marbury struggled to consistently do last season, could earn Hudson an invite to training camp.

DUDS: The last time Jerry Sloan was in Orlando on March 15 he was ejected by referee Monty McCutcheon just two minutes into the Magic-Jazz game. This game might have been even more painful to watch for the legendaryUtah coach. Rookie Eric Maynor (nine points, four assists) and Josh Duncan (12 points) were bright spots, while Goran Suton earned a quick hook for heaving up ill-advised 3-pointers.

John Denton has contributed to HOOPSWORLD for three seasons. He’s covered the Orlando Magic and the NBA for 11 years.