Ready or Not ...

Ready or Not ...

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- When Roy Williams announced the tentative starting lineup for Saturday's season opener, there was no surprise that Tyler Hansbrough was among them.

After all, the 6-9 freshman has been pegged as the starting center ever since UNC's frontcourt from last season departed in April.

And in exhibition games, he's lived up to preseason hype, showing the relentless aggressive play and ability to run the floor that made him such a must-have recruit for Roy Williams. His two-game preseason averages were 21.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22.0 minutes of play.

"He is an energetic kid," Williams observed. "He has more of an appetite for going after the ball than just about any freshman I've ever coached."

However, most freshmen aren't immediately asked to be the go-to low-post scorer and required to play heavy minutes in UNC's up-tempo game plan. Carolina's low post depth is one of the team's biggest concerns, with 6-9 senior Byron Sanders yet to show he can be a major contributor and unproven 6-7 freshman Mike Copeland still recovering from a preseason injury.

When asked Thursday if Hansbrough was ready for all that awaited him this season, Williams didn't answer with a 'yes' or 'no' -- because 'no' isn't an option the team can afford to consider.

"He needs to be ready because it's what we have," the coach said. "Our team is what it is."

Some difficult matchups against elite post players await Hansbrough this season. He'll face the likes of James Augustine (Illinois), Craig Smith (BC), Shelden Williams (Duke) and Eric Williams (Wake Forest), among others.

But every single game will provide competition that's a huge step up from his state-title winning high school days in Poplar Bluff, Mo.

"He's going to be faced with more defensive tension inside, possibly more double teams than he's faced with that kind of size," Williams said. "He's going to have some people doubling him and giving help that have size and will have a guy guarding him that's just as big as he is."

Hansbrough will receive a good opening test Saturday, in Gardner-Webb's 6-9, 250-pound center Simon Conn. While Conn isn't known on the national level, he proved his ability on the international circuit last summer to compete with quality post players.

Most importantly for Hansbrough on Saturday and for the rest of the season, again considering the team's severe lack of depth down low, will be to remain on the court.

"His biggest challenge is going to be to make sure he doesn't pick up silly fouls because the nature of his game is that he's going to pick up fouls," Williams said. "We've got to make sure he doesn't pick up silly fouls, and yet he's got a tremendous aptitude for staying out of foul trouble. He never fouled out of a high school game ... some guys really have a knack for understanding where they stand and can play with fouls."

How does Hansbrough feel about all this? His first regular season game at UNC? The expectations placed on him as a freshman?

Well, he hasn't been able to speak to the media yet because of the school's longtime policy that prohibits freshmen from interviews until after their first game. Until then, his elder teammates -- who have nicknamed him "Psycho T" -- are speaking for him and they have no doubt about his talents.

"Tyler Hansbrough contributes on every possession," said junior Wes Miller. "He battles so hard. He runs the floor. He's got great hands. He's got moves when he catches the ball in the post. Every rebound is his.

"He gives it 100 percent every time he steps on the floor, whether it is practice or a game. It pays off. I think it's pretty obvious that Tyler Hansbrough is a big-time player."

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