Ross Siler is one of my favorite NBA beat writers, covering the Utah Jazz for the Salt Lake Tribune. He's in Orlando for the Orlando Pro Summer League, and has agreed to send some dispatches to TrueHoop. His first is about Indiana rookie, and University of North Carolina legend, Tyler Hansbrough.
For the record, Tyler Hansbrough did come off the bench for one game his freshman year at North Carolina, so what happened Monday in his NBA debut at the Orlando summer league wasn't a full flashback to his days of needing to remember a locker combination.
Hansbrough enjoyed a solid, if not spectacular, debut in Indiana's 75-67 overtime victory over New Jersey/Philadelphia -- the Nixers or the 76ets -- finding his rhythm in the second half to total 17 points, five rebounds and three steals -- yes, off the bench.
"It's been a while,” said Hansbrough, who last thought he had come off the bench as a high school freshman. The Pacers opted to start Roy Hibbert and Josh McRoberts, with Hansbrough entering at the 5:03 mark of the first quarter.
"I was just doing my part on the team,” Hansbrough continued. "We came out here and I felt like I played well and I'm getting acclimated to all the little rules in the NBA, the defensive three seconds and stuff like that, so I think that was good for me.”
It was Hansbrough's first game action since North Carolina's victory in the NCAA championship game against Michigan State. That night, Hansbrough cut down the nets in front of 73,000 at Ford Field.
He played in front of several hundred Monday on the Magic's practice court, with the Orlando league open only to team personnel and media. If all crowds were so tame, Hansbrough wouldn't complain. "There's not a lot of people yelling at me, telling me how bad I am or things like that, like I'm used to,” Hansbrough said. "It's just a little different, but it's good, too.”
Instead of riding a bus to the arena, Hansbrough and his teammates piled into a caravan of SUVs and vans. Hansbrough admitted to some butterflies before his debut, even if he did arrive at the gym in a Nissan Pathfinder. He totaled three points and four fouls in the first half, including back-to-back personals in which he mixed it up with Marreese Speights in the second quarter.
"I think he was just trying to get to my head, sometimes that happens,” Hansbrough said. But Hansbrough picked it up in the second half, starting when he cut open in the lane and hit a jumper only 16 seconds after checking in. He fought hard for post position and flashed a nice move in the fourth quarter, backing down Rob Kurz before going up and under for a basket plus the foul.
With 4:32 left, Hansbrough called for the ball in the post and converted with the shot clock running out. "I was in a little foul trouble, so I was thinking more about not fouling than playing,” said Hansbrough, apparently unaware of the Greg Oden rule, affording unlimited fouls in summer league games. "I think in the second half I just played basketball.”
The Pacers went to Hansbrough on their final possession with 21.9 seconds left in regulation. He missed a runner in traffic that left Indiana coach Jim O'Brien still arguing for a foul call as his players headed back out for the start of overtime. (Instead of turning over summer duties to an assistant, O'Brien is coaching Hansbrough, Hibbert, McRoberts and Brandon Rush. "I was glad he was going to coach because we get a feel for how he likes to practice and what he likes to do,” Hansbrough said.)
Hansbrough was called for an illegal screen -- his only foul of the second half -- and missed a jumper in overtime. Even with Indiana holding a five-point lead and committed to run out the clock in the final 30 seconds, Hansbrough still was sprinting down court.
As the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leading scorer and one of the most accomplished college players in recent history, Hansbrough was clear that summer league is not like flunking a grade in his case. "This is all new for me,” Hansbrough said. "Trying to learn the offenses and things like that. Just getting familiar with the way we play.”
He listed his only goal for his rookie season as helping the Pacers to the playoffs. He also issued yet another statement to the skeptics (perhaps watching the live Webcasts from Orlando) who wonder if his game will translate to the next level.
"I can probably score 30 points in an NBA game and someone would still question whether I can play in the league or not, so I don't care,” Hansbrough said. "I'm not out to satisfy other people.” He is not the highest-drafted rookie in Orlando this week -- that distinction belongs to Oklahoma City's James Harden -- but Hansbrough might be the featured attraction.
"The only pressure I'm receiving is to go win ball games,” he said. "I don't really listen to outside sources.”