Decade’s Best: College Player
Psycho T is a model of consistent greatness.
The challenge of naming a player of the decade in college basketball is how fleeting success is at this level. Unlike the NBA where the truly great names can dominate for an entire decade alone, the NCAA sees its truly great stars come and go on an almost annual basis.It used to be that the transcendent players would spend a year or two developing, showing flashes of promise, before stepping into the spotlight as juniors and seniors. In this decade, one that has been dominated by freshman phenoms, the same standard of evanescent talent holds true. So pressing has the desire to jump to the pro ranks become, that the four-year star has gone from a rarity to nearly extinct.
The last ten years have produced some of the most impressive single-season performances in the history of the game. Carmelo Anthony carried Syracuse to a national championship in 2003, while Kevin Durant and Michael Beasley rewrote the record books in the Big 12 several years later. Certainly it would be easy to crown any of these individuals as the best player of the decade, but how can you truly weigh one season against a four-year run that set a new precedent in arguably the greatest conference in the game’s history.
It is with that precedent in mind that Tyler Hansbrough is SLAM’s choice as the college basketball player of the decade. Now before those anti-Carolina fans rise up and attempt to burn me in effigy, consider some of the facts.
Despite being a McDonald’s All-American in high school, Hansbrough didn’t exactly have the same level of flair as many other members of the class of 2005, due in large part to the nine players from that group who made the jump to the NBA. Even still, Josh McRoberts and Julian Wright were the headliners moving onto the college game, Hansbrough was the hardnosed kid from Poplar Bluff, Missouri who was expected to be a solid interior presence for the Tar Heels. Of course, the rest is history as they say.
Hansbrough was named National Freshman of the Year after averaging 18.9 ppg and 7.8 rpg. He would never average fewer than 18.4 and 7.8 at any point in his four years in Chapel Hill and never shot lower than 51 percent from the floor. The awards and accolades are absolutely staggering, but there are only two that really need to be considered to appreciate where Hansbrough stands in the game’s history. He finished his career as the ACC’s all-time leading scorer and as the only player in history to be a first-team All-American selection in all four of his seasons.
Think about that for a minute – no other player in college basketball history has been a four-time first-team All-American. Two managed to do it three times, David Thompson and Ralph Sampson (both from the ACC ironically) who are each considered to be among the greatest college players of all time. Earning that distinction four times requires not only to be one of the best players in the country, but to do it year after year. Is that to say that Durant, Anthony or Beasley couldn’t have accomplished the same feat? Of course not, but the point is they didn’t. In an age where college has become a means to an end, Hansbrough stands as THE example of what college sports is all about.
Sure you can argue that he stuck around so long because he knew he would never achieve the same level of success in the Association, and he almost certainly never will, but that isn’t what this is about. You can say he wasn’t the most appealing player to watch because his game didn’t feature any flash or flair to speak of, but he got the job done. Tim Duncan is going to go down as one of the greatest power forwards of all time when he retires and he is considered the most boring superstar of his time. The same can be said for Hansbrough. What he lacked in gravity defying hops, he made up for by outworking and outhustling everyone. Future big man instructional videos should feature entire segments on his ability to keep his pivot foot and maneuver in the post to find an angle to get his shot off.
Then there is the unequivocal truth that Hansbrough was a winner. You can point to the wealth of talent that he was always surrounded by, but there is no question he was the heart and soul of those Carolina teams. During the forwards tenure, the Tar Heels appeared in four straight NCAA Tournaments, three straight Elite Eight’s, back-to-back Final Fours and of course winning it all last year. Hansbrough was the centerpiece of the winningest class in UNC history, a group that won 124 games, or an average of 31 wins per season.
No matter how you choose to define greatness at the college level, Hansbrough has managed to achieve it. Just as he did on the court, he always finds a way to get it done and get it done to the highest level. There have been better individual seasons, there have been more talented players and there will certainly be individuals who go on to more successful professional careers, but Psycho T stands alone when measuring greatness in the college game over the past 10 years.
For more Decade Awards, check out the archive.