Hansbrough goes No. 13 overall to Indiana

Friday, June 26, 2009
NBA commissioner David Stern, left, poses with North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, who was picked by the Indiana Pacers during the first round of the NBA draft Thursday in New York. Hansbrough, a Poplar Bluff native, averaged 20.7 points and 8.1 rebounds a game as a senior for the national champion Tar Heels. (SETH WENIG ~ Associated Press)

Larry Bird liked what he saw from the Poplar Bluff native.

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana Pacers president Larry Bird usually doesn't let too much information out before the NBA draft.

Still, he couldn't hide his respect for North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough, even saying he hoped the forward would be available when the Pacers were ready to make the 13th pick Thursday night.

"I think he's going to be a good one," Bird said earlier in the week. "They have picked on Tyler for four years, but all he's ever done is won. I like to watch him play."

Bird backed up his words with action by making Hansbrough a key part of his rebuilding effort, hoping the hardworking power forward brings a winning attitude to the struggling Pacers. Indiana has missed the playoffs the past three years.

North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough takes questions in the interview room after being selected by the Indiana Pacers in the first round Thursday in New York. (JASON DECROW ~ Associated Press)

Hansbrough, a native of Poplar Bluff, led North Carolina to the NCAA title this past season, and The Associated Press named him its national player of the year in 2008.

Bird said Hansbrough was the player he wanted all along.

"Yep, that's the guy," he said. "We had some point guards we wanted, but we felt if Ty was there, we had to take him. He's a mature four-year guy, great college career."

The Pacers took Connecticut guard A.J. Price in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. Price averaged 14.7 points per game last season, but that jumped to 19 points per game in the NCAA tournament as he led the Huskies to the Final Four.

Hansbrough, the Atlantic Coast Conference's all-time leading scorer, is best known for his intensity. He lost a contact lens and got a bloody nose during a workout in Indianapolis this month.

But he's more than a tough player. He averaged 22.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game as a junior, then averaged 20.7 points and 8.1 rebounds as a senior. He shot better than 50 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free-throw line both seasons.

"He's got good mechanics, he's very well-rounded," Bird said. "He scored in college, he'll score in the league."

Reaction at Conseco Fieldhouse was mixed, which always has been the case for Hansbrough. Bird said the fact that Hansbrough played for North Carolina brought some of the negative response.

"Not everybody's going to be happy with who you take, but once they see him play, they'll be very surprised," Bird said. "He fits in well with us, and he's going to have a great career."

Hansbrough knows he has doubters.

"There's nothing to it but to prove some people wrong," he said. "At the same time, the way I look at it is, people didn't think I was going to be a very good college player, and I was successful in college."

It is the second straight year the Pacers have added a player from the previous college national champion on draft night. Last year, Indiana got Kansas guard Brandon Rush in a trade with Portland.

That's no accident.

"That's what we're trying to build here," Bird said. "A winning environment with winning players."

Bird wanted one more winner, Hansbrough's college teammate Ty Lawson. A first-round trade fell through at the last minute that would have given the Pacers a shot at him. Lawson was picked 18th by Minnesota before being traded to Denver.

"I wish I had Ty Lawson, too, but you can't have them all," he said. "They're all winners."

Hansbrough feels he fits in with Indiana's up-tempo style because North Carolina plays a similar style.

"I think that's a plus," he said. "The way they like to run and move around and get up and down the court, I think that's something that I can come in right away and help with."

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