Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Hardwood Hack

To honor Wilson's request from Sunday and to attempt to regain his good favor, today I shall add my percussive triangle to the cacophany of sound out there concerning the now infamous Hansbrough v. Henderson (2007).

For those who do not know, in the waning seconds of UNC's victory over Duke on Sunday, UNC center Tyler Hansbrough grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and attempted to shoot. Duke player Gerald Henderson leaped in an attempt to block the shot. Amidst the tangle of bodies, Henderson heaved a hearty heavy haymaker at Hansbrough's head. This was the result.

The officials ejected Henderson from the game, saying he committed a combative foul. By rule, he is suspended for Duke's next game against N.C. State. Hansbrough has a broken nose but should play in UNC's next game, potentially with a facemask that will protect his schnoz while also ensuring his contact lenses do not fall out.

In my exhaustive research for this post (read: laying on the couch watching Sportscenter and reading the Charlotte Observor sports section), I have come across varying opinions concerning the incident. ESPN's Jay Bilas, who for my money is the most complete analysist in college basketball, says the officials made the right call, that the foul was excessively flagrant and that intent has nothing to do with the ruling. Scott Fowler, columnist for the Charlotte Observor, concurs, saying that Henderson's foul was reckless though probably not intentional. Like wrecking at 85 MPH. You did not intend to do it, but your recklessness was the primary cause. Billy Packer, the CBS color guy who called the game, claims the officials botched the call, that two fellas were simply playing hard and bumped into one another.

At the risk of alienating my Tar Heel brethren and worse, agreeing with Billy Packer, I think the referees should have called a personal foul and left it at that. The play was utter chaos. When Hansbrough went up for the putback, he was undercut by another Duke player. Henderson jumped into the melee and quickly lost his balance in the mess. Thus, we have Tyler falling down, Joe Duke getting fallen on, and Henderson flailing to regain balance. That anyone could have done something intentional in that split-second seems absurd. Plus, if Duke wanted to put a hit on Hansbrough, they would've sent in an insignificant like Brian Zoubek who is bigger and more terrible than Henderson (who played an excellent game Sunday).

But as Bilas states, intention may not play any role here. The flagrant nature of the foul alone stands as grounds for punishment. But come on, folks, basketball is a tough sport, and hard fouls are a central part of the game. Especially in an era of huge, strong men like Hansbrough who make a living converting three-point plays. You must foul guys like Hansbrough and Shaq hard or you will lose. Yes, Henderson went in very hard. Yes, Henderson wanted to swat Tyler's shot into orbit. Yes, this caused him to hit Tyler hard on the face, whether intentional or not. Sounds like basketball to me.

And basketball fans, given the choice, would you prefer someone with the toughness to foul a guy to prevent a layup or one who plays matador defense, waving at a big man's arm as he moves towards the basket? I would've been quite mad if Marcus Ginyard had offered Josh McSoberts a touch foul on his was to the hoop. Foul him hard! And if he bleeds, all the better. It is UNC/Duke, after all.

Perhaps the most absurd insunation of this whole ordeal is that neither player should have been in the game with the outcome all but settled. With 50 seconds left in the game, Duke called a timeout, thinking the game still up in the air. A couple years ago at Maryland, Duke made a 10-point comeback in the closing minute to win the game. More than this though, you do not bother putting the scrubs in with 13 seconds left. They get no experience in that amount of time, and it takes longer to call timeout to make the substitution than it would to simply run out the last seconds. The fact that Henderson and Hansbrough were still in the game is status quo and nothing else.

The blood was the most transformational aspect of the whole situation. If Hansbrough gets off the floor with a huge knot on his nose, Henderson may receive a flagrant foul and we move on. The bloody scene made everything look worse than it perhaps may have been. Both teams seemed shocked by the sight which seems to explain why they showed no animosity towards one another as the officials sorted out the play. The Duke bench looked like four-year olds waiting for punishment while a Tar Heel player joked with his teammates.

Hardly the stuff of fierce rivals. Dare I say it, where is Matt Doherty when you need him?

Hansbrough's reaction was colored by the red too. He absorbs a lot of physical violence during games, much of it intentional (Georgia Tech, we're looking at you). Yet, he rarely loses his cool. Not so on Sunday, as he leaped up with great passion. There was more fear in his eyes than anger though. Seeing your own blood is a scary thing.

All that to say, the blood made this a bigger deal than it should have been. Blood changes things.

Perhaps that is the story of this whole incident. A lot of noise over something that really was not a big deal. No wonder the media has gobbled it up. In the end, Henderson will miss one game that Duke will probably win against the consistently hapless and unhappy N.C. State Wolfpack. Hansbrough will wear a mask and look even more psycho than ever but miss no playing time. UNC fans will boo Henderson for as long as he plays in the Dean Dome, but let's be honest, would it be different had the incident not happened?

In the spirit of these conclusions, I follow suit and give you lots of important sounding noise on a subject of absolutely no consequence.


Anonymous said...

What seals the deal with me is the fact that it was GERALD HENDERSON, who is well-known as the most passive of Duke's freshman class. He's a posh suburb-boy that enjoys golf in his free time (golf!). Christian Laettner would've done it on purpose; Dahntay Jones too. Henderson? Please...

I'm glad someone else sees that Hansbrough was scared when he stood up. I've heard that he was "absolutely furious" from a number of folks, and wasn't quite sure where that came from. My guess is that the viewers were furious, a feeling they projected onto a man large enough to do something about it. In any case, I thought Hansbrough got up stunned more than anything. Anyone who has gotten their nose bloodied knows the initial reaction is always bewilderment.

Esther said...

Thank you! Finally some UNC people who agree with me... (I wasn't letting people talk to me about it afterwards...) : P

I'm glad I got to see you Friday! I hope it was fun being back in town!