Neither Tim Duncan nor Len Bias played in a Final Four. The national championship eluded Phil Ford, J.J. Redick and Ralph Sampson.
ACC basketball legends all.
So the notion that Tyler Hansbrough's North Carolina career might be tarnished by defeat in tonight's NCAA title game against Michigan State escapes Tar Heels coach Roy Williams and Hansbrough himself.
"I am not going to look at my career as a failure if we don't win a national championship," Hansbrough said Sunday. "There are always going to be those people who say I am not a good player or that I am overrated no matter if we win a national title or not. So, it does not make me look at anything any different."
A 6-foot-9 senior and last season's national player of the year, Hansbrough returned to North Carolina with this stage in mind. Along the way, he became the ACC's all-time scoring leader, the Tar Heels' No. 1 career rebounder and a first-team All-American for the third consecutive season.
This is Hansbrough's second straight Final Four, but his 2008 visit ended with a semifinal loss to Kansas. Saturday he contributed 18 points, 11 rebounds and four steals to a semifinal victory over Villanova.
Win or lose tonight, he exits the college stage.
"You've got to judge (a career) on the body of work and what the young man has done," Williams said. "There have been some great coaches who haven't been able to get to a Final Four. … Did Ernie Banks ever win a World Series? …
"I would have trouble agreeing or even carrying on a good conversation with anyone that would look at it that way."
Hansbrough missed three games early this season with shin and ankle injuries, the first time he's been sidelined at North Carolina. Three days after sitting out a routine rout of UNC Asheville, he bludgeoned Michigan State for 25 points and 11 rebounds.
The Tar Heels won 98-63, the most points the Spartans have allowed in a regulation game during Tom Izzo's 14 seasons as coach. But Michigan State's starting center, 6-10 center Goran Suton, missed that contest with a knee injury.
"There's two kinds of players I always talk about — seekers and avoiders," Izzo said. Hansbrough "is a seeker. I mean, if you're there, he's gonna go hit you. That's what I love about him. But when I have to play against him, that's what I hate about him, because he is the ultimate competitor.
"He's going to find a way to beat you. … They said he couldn't shoot the ball. Now he's shooting 17-footers. They said he couldn't go over his right shoulder. Now he's going over his right shoulder."
Hansbrough's game has, indeed, evolved, particularly on offense. But he remains a grinder, the antithesis of the sleek, levitating athletes NBA teams seem to prefer.
Sure, Hansbrough could have turned pro after last season. But his draft status then, and now, is a riddle. He won't be among the top 10 selected, and maybe not the top 20.
"This kid chose to come back to college because he loved college basketball, loved college life," Williams said. "He's done very well. The NBA has not folded. He'll still be a (first-round) NBA draft choice.
"Every coach in America should have been pulling for him all year long so we can keep the agents and runners and those kind of people from trashing college basketball."
Williams was referring to folks who, hoping to cash in themselves, encourage college players to turn pro ASAP. Once Hansbrough decided to stay, he told others to write a statement for the media rather than leave the weight room.
Hansbrough reminds Izzo of former Spartans guard Mateen Cleaves. After Michigan State lost to Duke in the 1999 Final Four, he returned for his senior season and led the Spartans to the national championship.
"You have to have great respect for people that will put team and university and coaches and all that ahead of (their) own individual things," Izzo said. "I think he's proven his mettle by doing that."
Win or lose tonight, Hansbrough's legacy will include the reputation of as hard a worker as ever played. It all started in the family yard in Missouri, where Hansbrough lowered the rim to 8 feet so he could dunk.
"I still think that the best games of my life have been in my backyard," he said. "That is where it all starts, when you are a little kid playing in your backyard and you begin to love the game."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun