Posted: Wednesday March 14, 2007 12:29PM; Updated: Wednesday March 14, 2007 12:29PM
The madness of March began early for North Carolina -- and for its Player of the Year candidate Tyler Hansbrough. Before the Tar Heels (28-6) rolled through the ACC tournament to lock up the top seed in the NCAA's East region, they completed a season's sweep of archrival Duke. The Blue Devils did not go gently in that March 4 game: Hansbrough, a 6'9", 245-pound sophomore center averaging 18.1 points and 7.9 rebounds, absorbed a hard elbow foul by Gerald Henderson that left his nose bloodied and broken. Hansbrough -- who plans to stay in school rather than test the NBA draft -- wore a protective mask in the ACC tournament, but his focus has not blurred. He's eyeing a trip to Atlanta for the Final Four.
On his battle scars
Aside from the nose, one of my upper front teeth was knocked loose on a separate play against Duke -- I may have to get a root canal after the season because of it. I didn't think my nose was broken or that serious at first. It didn't hurt that bad. I've been hit a lot this season, a lot of bumps and bruises. But battle scars are nothing new: In high school [at Poplar Bluff (Mo.) High] my freshman year I broke my leg when I landed awkwardly after going for a layup.
On life in Poplar Bluff
It's a close-knit town [pop. 16,921]; everybody knows what's going on with everybody else. Everybody's real supportive, even with me being a Tar Heel. Most people at home wanted me to go to Missouri, but when we played in St. Louis in December, a couple of thousand fans from Poplar Bluff came dressed in Carolina Blue. That was special.
On wearing jersey number 50 for his brother Greg, 23
I'm proud of my brother [who wore the number in high school]. He was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was seven years old and after it was removed, he was left partially paralyzed on his left side. But he's very determined and very athletic. He's even run marathons.
On learning Swahili at UNC
I took a class last year [he has not declared a major], and I am taking another this year. Maybe I'll use the language on a trip to Africa someday. There's no reason I chose Swahili other than that I thought it would be cool. I enjoy it.
On other interesting classes
I'm taking Naval Weapons Systems. You learn about the engineering and operating systems that the Navy has on ships for weapons. I wanted classes about things I wouldn't necessarily be exposed to on my own.
On getting pedicures
If you have bad-looking feet, like I do because of basketball, it's nice to have them taken care of. You get blisters and callouses; a pedicure removes dead skin and makes your feet look better. It also kind of feels good -- you have your feet soaked and massaged and buffed up. Other guys on the team get pedicures too.
On former UNC coach Dean Smith
He's always around. I was shy to meet him at first, but he's extremely nice and he's interested in how we do, and he offers advice. It's always useful -- it makes you want to take [his words] onto the court and execute.
On the toughest teams in the tournament
It's unpredictable. You have to see who's peaking. But I'm not scared to match up with anybody. I'll be ready.