Commentary: Enough with Hansbrough already

The NCAA Tournament soon will be upon us. It normally is a highlight of the year for me.

Great teams abound. Upsets lurk. Unlikely stories present themselves. Tournament pools overflow. What’s there not to like?

Well, now that you asked, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough would be at the top of my “not-to-like” list. And right now, it’s a list of one.

I don’t know Hansbrough. He could be the nicest kid in the world, for all I know. He could be the kind of kid who helps old ladies in Duke jerseys across the street.

But if you want to talk about overexposure, you start with Hansbrough, who is on TV so much that, by comparison, Paris Hilton has an air of mystery to her.

It’s not his fault. He fascinates the networks in a way no 22-year-old college basketball player should. He makes the most of his considerable ability, which is why Sports Illustrated made him its national player of the year. He will be an average player in the NBA, but that’s really beside the point.

You would think he’s Michael Jordan by the way the analysts yammer on about his “intensity,” a word that apparently is surgically attached to Hansbrough and no one else. The lowlight came last year when ESPN announcer Bill Raftery uttered these words while the camera was trained on Hansbrough during a timeout: “Watching Tyler Hansbrough listen is special!”

Yes, watching Hansbrough intensely listen to his coach makes for thrilling television. In fact, I thought he got robbed in the Best Actor-Drama category in the 2007 Emmys.

College basketball announcers seem bewitched by Hansbrough’s wide-eyed look on the court, and only further scientific study will tell us whether those eyes have gotten wider since he started realizing they were the focus of so much attention. As it stands, his eyes are bigger than Fat Albert’s stomach.

Apparently no one else in college basketball hustles the way Hansbrough does. Other players dive for loose balls, but when Hansbrough does it, you would think he were diving on a grenade to save the lives of his teammates the way the TV announcers describe it.

There is something vaguely unsettling about all this. When was the last time you heard a broadcaster talk about the work ethic and intensity of a black player? Maybe that’s overanalyzing things, but when you see other kids busting their butts on the court and getting no recognition for it, you try to understand why.

All I know is that, provided North Carolina keeps winning – and even then it might not make a difference – CBS will have wall-to-wall coverage of Hansbrough. The last person to get this much attention for his eyes was Superman, and it was for his extraordinary vision. I think I just gave CBS another story idea: Tyler Hansbrough, superhero. Where does a network go to get a cape?

When Duke’s Gerald Henderson broke Hansbrough’s nose with his elbow last season, you couldn’t help but wonder whether that was for all the college basketball players who were sick of the gushing over the North Carolina forward. Henderson was suspended for a game. You also couldn’t help but wonder if the networks at least might have taken a moment to consider whether they had played a role in the bloodletting.

And it came to you almost immediately: Nah.