January 14, 2007

Hansbrough brothers at home on court

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Did you see what Hansbrough did last night?

Even most casual college basketball fans know who is being referred to in that popular question. Unless … you live in Starkville, Miss., or happen to be a diehard Mississippi State hoops fan.

They would react with a question of their own: "Which one?"

Ben Hansbrough, the younger brother of UNC star Tyler Hansbrough, is a freshman guard for the Bulldogs and is one of the most promising young players on the team.

Ben came off the bench to score 10 points in the Bulldogs' season opener. By MSU's seventh game, the gritty 6-foot-3, 200-pounder who grew up playing in the large shadow of his famous brother at Poplar Bluff (Mo.) High, earned a starting job.

Ben went out and scored a season-high 23 points and dished out eight assists in that first start, a 96-72 rout over Texas A&M-Corpus Christi.

Those numbers were outside the norm for Ben (averages 7.5 points and 3.7 assists a game), but he has been a steady contributor all season. Ben is playing the second most minutes on the team, behind star Jamont Gordon. Hansbrough is averaging 26.6 minutes to Gordon's 30.5 minutes a game. Hansbrough is also shooting a team-high 50 percent (19-of-38) from 3-point range.

Not bad for a guy whose only Division-I scholarship offers came from Mississippi State and Southern Illinois.

That probably wouldn't have been the case if Ben hadn't committed to the Bulldogs during the summer before his senior year. That's right around the time he dedicated himself to improving his game, going through grueling 6:30 a.m. workouts that included a series of shooting and ballhandling drills – on top of a strict weight lifting regimen.

A much more powerful and polished player emerged. Hansbrough started taking over games offensively as a senior, penetrating into the paint with ease and routinely drilling long-distance 3-pointers.

When Tyler came home for Christmas, he quickly noticed the changes.

"I think when I left high school it was a tough challenge for Ben," Tyler Hansbrough told Rivals.com. "He didn't have a lot of help on the inside and that helped him really work on his game.

"He made a lot of improvements. When I came back home I was shocked. His outside shooting had really improved and he was also driving and slashing. It was really surprising."

Ben wound up averaging 24.3 points, 10.4 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 3.9 steals a game as a senior, breaking several school records along the way. He was selected Mr. Show-Me Basketball, an award that Tyler had captured the pervious season.

Family affair
Brothers playing college basketball
• Carl (Purdue) and Marcus Landry (Wisconsin)
• Ben (Mississippi State) and Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina)
• Robin (Stanford) and Brook Lopez (Stanford)*
• Reginald (Mississippi State) and Richard Delk (Mississippi State)*
• Lodrick (Southern Cal) and Rodrick Stewart (Kansas)*
Ben did come up short on one of his biggest goals, breaking his brother's single-game scoring record.

"My dad would call Tyler at halftime and the only thing he wanted to know was if I had broken his record," Ben said. "The record is 44 and I had 37 with five minutes to go in the district finals. But, we had a big lead and our coach took all the starters out."

That type of behavior is very typical of the brothers, who are known for their competitiveness. Ben obviously lacks the size and athleticism that Tyler has, but he plays with the same kind of grit and determination.

"Ben brings a work ethic that a lot of kids don't have," Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said. "He's an old-school guy who brings it every day, whether it is in practice or in a game. I couldn't ask more from a young man when it comes to attitude and effort and I think that's why he's going to continue to improve."

Ben does have a slight advantage over his peers. Most of the advice he receives comes from one of the best players in college basketball.

Ben and Tyler are about as close as two brothers can be. They talk every day and consider each other best friends. They don't miss a chance to see one another play on television if given the chance. Most of their phone calls don't deal with basketball, but when the subject comes up they don't hesitate to offer pointers.

"It's all constructive criticism," Ben said. "We don't get upset with other, but we know each other's games so well that we respect what the other has to say."

"I kind of went through what Ben is going through last season," Tyler said. "I know what it's like to be a freshman, and I mainly just tell him that things are going to keep getting better."

There is one subject that the Hansbrough brothers don't like to discuss, or even entertain. That's the possibility of playing against one another someday, which almost became a reality.

Stansbury and UNC coach Roy Williams talked about scheduling at least one game between the Bulldogs and Tar Heels, but it never came to fruition.

"There was a chance we could have played against each other, but our coaches decided not to do it," Ben said. "It would have been weird and separated our family, so I would prefer not to."

Tyler feels similarly, saying, "I'm always rooting for my brother to do well, so it would be very difficult to go up against him."

If Ben keeps improving, many of the opposing guards in the SEC will find out just how difficult it is to play against a Hansbrough.


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