Duke-NCarolina-Basket_WebIt is no secret that I am a fan of two things…The Tar Heels and one Mr. Tyler Hansbrough. Last night I was checking out a site that I frequent called MrTarHeel.com. I stumbled across this letter that was written by Gene Hansbrough (Tyler’s Dad) and submitted to Tar Heel Monthly. It’s too good to not share. Regardless of if you like the Tar Heels, Tyler Hansbrough or NCAA Hoops, it’s worth a read.

As I read it I reflected on the pride of this Dad. It comes screaming out of the pages as you read. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids? I’m not talking about winning Player of the Year, or NCAA championships (although that would totally ROCK!). I am more referring to knowing that they achieved their dreams. Sorry for the length, but I felt like it was worth re-posting. Here’s his letter (the bold emphasis are mine).

Would you call him a failure? He was a little kid and he couldn’t quite raise the ball to the basket. He put the ball way down by his hip and pushed with everything he had. But the ball just wouldn’t get over the rim. Still, he stayed there all alone, flinging the ball upward again and again. He never did make one that day but he stayed there a long, long time.

46 months ago my son left his home almost 800 miles behind to pursue his lifelong dream as a student athlete at the University of North Carolina. He was a tall, thin, shy boy with a fear of flying, elevators and failure. Although a good athlete, his greatest attribute could not be measured in the weight room or with a stop watch and tape measure. As a McDonalds’s All Star American, he had many opportunities to play much closer to his Midwestern, small-town, roots. He made the journey because of his faith that Roy Williams and his staff would be able to nurture that attribute.

I watched him struggle through the lonely, homeless feeling that all college freshmen experience. On one of my first visits, I watched as almost 42 feet of gangly limbs, elbows and feet piled out of Marcus Ginyard’s ex- police cruiser. They looked like a gaggle of newborn colts, this young group of Carolina freshmen. SI said they would lucky to make the NIT.

Then came my first visit to the Dean Smith Center. UNC was playing Illinois, the 2005 NCAA runner-up. There was my son wearing the legendary blue Tar Heels uniform. The English language has no words to describe how I felt.

The games and the days went by. Friends and leaders such as Wes Miller and David Noel helped the young players find their way on and off the court. In late March, I saw the second-greatest game of my life. In the insane asylum known as Cameron Indoor Stadium, this young team beat J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams on Senior Night.

All life is full of peaks and valleys. The summit of the win at Durham gave way to the canyon of a second round loss to George Mason. I watched as Tyler and his teammates dealt with that loss.

The measure of a man is not that he gets knocked down but how he gets back up. Tyler took out his torment by stealing his body. With the help of Jonas Sahratian, he pulled cars around the Smith Center parking lot. Still chasing that dream. The next year, Roy William’s team gained some respect. Tyler learned to show dignity and class by resisting the opportunity to criticize even when that opportunity left him with a broken nose. He was learning the Carolina Way.

Fate once again presented its hills and valleys to my son and Carolina fans. The ride to the final four was stopped one game short by a painful loss to Georgetown. My son also learned a bitter lesson in perspective. The disappointing defeat paled next to the tragic loss of Jason Ray on that same, cruel New Jersey night.

The next year again held great peaks and valleys for my son and the Tar Heel family. He saw one of his good friends go down with a season-ending injury. But we made it to the Final Four. The thrill quickly died when a great Kansas team eliminated us.

Tyler was to receive many individual accolades that year. As with any team sport, a large cast of characters contributed to any one person’s success. During the middle of these honors, Tyler called me. It was a typical Tyler call, only this time there was a slight quiver in his voice. “Dad”, he began, “I try not to think of individual things when we have so much to accomplish as a team, but Dad, when I came here I never thought my jersey would be retired in the rafters of the Smith Center.” Again, words fail me as I try to describe my feelings at that moment.

As late spring approached, the same decision had to be made that had been made in the past three years. Tyler decided to stay at UNC for his senior year. The night of the NBA draft he spoke again, Dad, when I get through, I’ll have something that the rest of them don’t. A college degree. National player of the year with a college degree. An all too rare combination.

As I write this in late January, no one knows what where this years roller coaster ride will go. I do know that the boy who left Poplar Bluff, Missouri almost for years ago is a little taller and not really thin anymore. He has flown more miles than an arctic tern. He has ridden elevators to the top suites of the finest hotels in our great country. And on a magical night in late December, that formerly shy, young boy gave one of the most gracious speeches I have ever heard. That young boy from Poplar Bluff is now a man we can all be proud of. His physique, character and mind have all been chiseled into granite. He came to the University of North Carolina to chase a dream. While chasing that dream, he has come to live it every day. All of this comes from trusting one very remarkable man.

To Roy Williams, Joe Holladay and the wonderful coaching staff. To all Tylers teammates and friends at North Carolina. To Tar Heel fans everywhere. On behalf of myself and my family, thank you for allowing my son to be a part of the greatest basketball family on the planet: The Tar Heels Nation.

-By Gene Hansbrough, Tyler’s Fatherbold