At Pittsboro Rotary Club, former UNC star Hansbrough talks overseas ball and more

BY CHAPEL FOWLER, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/9/20

PITTSBORO — Katie Walker said it best: although she was supposed to introduce the guest she brought to last Wednesday’s Pittsboro Rotary Club meeting, he didn’t really need one.

When …

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At Pittsboro Rotary Club, former UNC star Hansbrough talks overseas ball and more

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PITTSBORO — Katie Walker said it best: although she was supposed to introduce the guest she brought to last Wednesday’s Pittsboro Rotary Club meeting, he didn’t really need one.

When you’re Tyler Hansbrough, the former four-time All-American, national player of the year, all-time leading scorer and national champion from the college just 25 minutes up U.S. 15-501, your reputation tends to precede itself.

“This was one of the cooler guests we’ve had,” club president Eric Williams said.

Hansbrough, a career 20 points-per-game scorer and 6-foot-9 forward who helped North Carolina men’s basketball to the 2009 national title, spoke with the club for 40 minutes last week via Zoom.

He kept things mostly light with the 25 guests — recalling his time at UNC, his favorite Chapel Hill restaurants and his recent affinity for bourbon — but also touched on a few more serious issues, including his spot in the program’s Black Lives Matter video and playing pro basketball in China, which he said “hasn’t been an easy journey.”

The 34-year-old has played last his last three seasons in the Chinese Basketball Association — he just finished up with the Sichuan Blue Whales in late July — and is working toward another contract. He averaged 32 points and 13 rebounds last season in 17 games; for his career, he averages 23 and 11.

Hansbrough’s time abroad has been “life-changing” already, he said. Since his main social circle is the CBA, which includes plenty of former NBA and Division I hoopers and provides translators, the basics haven’t been too hard. And although he’s an adventurous eater, there are more traditional Western options.

“It’s grown me as a person,” Hansbrough said, “and it’s crazy that basketball can take me from a small town in Missouri to a 17-million-person city in China.”

He has struggled with getting around, finding it harder to communicate and use public transit when he’s on his own rather than with a team. CBA seasons are shorter (about 40 games to the NBA’s 82) but practices are much more intense. Hansbrough extolled the virtues of compression tights, NormaTec recovery boots and stretching to combat two-a-day practices (even on game days).

“Load management isn’t really a thought process,” he said, laughing. “You take Ibuprofen, you get your sleep when you can and you hope you don’t get hurt.”

There’s also a natural isolation factor. Hansbrough’s family is spread across Missouri and Kentucky, and his roots are in Chapel Hill. But RDU to Hong Kong flights last anywhere from 14 to 16 hours, not counting layovers and further travel to his teams’ cities: Sichuan, Zhejiang and Guangzhou so far.

But China’s a better option than Europe, Hansbrough said, because it keeps his NBA options more open.

The CBA wraps up its season in March and April, leaving the door open for NBA teams to snag a veteran or injury replacement before the playoffs. The Wizards pulled that exact maneuver in 2018, signing Ty Lawson, Hansbrough’s old UNC teammate, days before the NBA postseason.

That’s an enticing opportunity for Hansbrough, a former No. 13 overall pick who has played seven NBA seasons for the Pacers, Raptors and nearby Hornets and last appeared in 2016. So he keeps pushing.

“At pro level, it’s a job,” he said.

He spends his off-seasons in Chapel Hill, a town where he became a household name from 2005 to 2009. Hansbrough unsurprisingly remains a big part of UNC’s program, working out at team facilities with strength coach Jonas Sahratian and playing in the vaunted Smith Center summer pick-up games.

This summer, as racial injustice protests swept the country, Hansbrough also reached out to the program and offered support. When he learned UNC was putting together a Black Lives Matter video featuring players from its championship teams, Hansbrough said he’d “love to be involved.”

In the final clip, released July 16, he affirmed on camera: “We can’t be silent anymore.”

Hansbrough took questions from Rotarians, too. He revealed his all-time UNC starting five if he had to be included — himself, Lawson, Michael Jordan, Phil Ford and Antawn Jamison — and his top five Chapel Hill eats: IP3, Mediterranean Deli, CAVA, Monterrey’s and Top of the Hill.

After Hansbrough logged off, Williams, the president, laughed as he read out Pittsboro Rotary Club contact information to the remaining attendees, plenty of them first-timers decked out in UNC gear.

“This is the most guests we’ve had in 2020,” he said, not that he minded.

Reporter Chapel Fowler can be reached at cfowler@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @chapelfowler.

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