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Flying Home With Grandpa Hansbrough

When I got dressed to catch my 10:45 a.m. flight from RDU to Chicago this morning, I had no idea my selection of a Duke T-shirt would be such a conversation starter.

Let's just say I vastly underestimated the number of Tar Heel fans who had come to Carolina to watch the game. I small talked with a couple folks in the terminal, including the father of a three year-old boy who whispered with fear into his dad's ear when he saw me, "Oh no! Look, daddy! Look at her shirt!" I'm pretty sure my first victory of the morning was convincing this poor child that I wouldn't bite.

Everything was all fine and good and standard until I boarded the plane itself. An older gentleman in the window seat in the row immediately in front of me muttered an, "I'm sorry," as I scrambled to find a place to stuff my duffel bag. I didn't hear him at first, and he laughed when I didn't respond. I then joked with him that I had seen better days. This man was so kind and gregarious and had this Southern charm about him that immediately engaged me in conversation through our seats (he was in 8F, me in 9E). He starts calling Duke the "University of South Joisy" to get under my skin, and I assure him I am not from "Joisy," but rather from Chicago. My strong Chicago-ness won the man's favor and then, with a casual air of matter-of-factness mixed with Midwestern pride, my friend in 8F offers up the information that he went to the game to see his grandson, Tyler, play.

Suddenly, my mind has pieced it all together: the charming old man is flying to Chicago, then St. Louis and then driving god knows how long to god knows where in Missouri the Hansbroughs are from. As soon as he said it, I could definitely see the resemblance. He had a big frame and presence about him, even smushed in his coach window seat.

I promised Mr. Hansbrough as we exited the plane that I wouldn't write anything mean about his grandson--and I won't (at least in this post) out of respect to him--but I thought I would share some snippets of our conversation with you. Because, though I hate to admit it, Grandpa Hansbrough is a really cool guy. Like, I've interviewed his grandson before, but if given the choice, I would choose to chat with Grandpa Hansbrough eight days a week over the reigning National Player of the Year.

After being interrupted by those pesky flight attendants, I started up our conversation again by asking Mr. Hansbrough how many games he's seen this season.

"Four," he said. "I'm 83 and had a heart attack"--he laughs easily to give the comment a sense of levity--"and getting to Carolina isn't so easy." I ask him if he'll go to any of the Tournament games.

"Detroit isn't so far from Missouri," I add.

He responded that he'll go to Greensboro when if UNC gets placed there, and he wouldn't miss being in Detroit for the world if the Tar Heels make it that far.

I then was curious as to what he thought was the best game he's ever seen Tyler play. Without hesitation, Mr. Hansbrough recalled Tyler's senior year of high school and the Missouri state championship game. Poplar Bluff beat the No. 1 team in the nation (Vashon) by 16 points and Tyler had 31 points and 15 rebounds, Grandpa said. I did a quick Internet search and the story basically checks out, except that Tyler's actual line was 29 and 16 with two blocks. Like any good grandparent not wanting to appear to have a favorite, Mr. Hansbrough immediately switched gears to talk about Tyler's little brother, Ben, who sat out this season after transferring to Notre Dame.

"Ben is a much better athlete," Grandpa conceded, "but Tyler is a better basketball player." He then qualified by saying the two are completely different players--Ben is, after all, only 6-foot-3--yet people will be surprised next year at how good Ben is when he finally gets to play again. (For the record, my grandma thinks I'm the greatest writer in the country, so any grandparent-based assessment has to be taken with a grain of salt. Then again, Hansbrough's grandson in Chapel Hill IS arguably the best basketball player in the country, so maybe the guy knows what he's talking about.)

The last piece of information Grandpa Hansbrough divulged, and much to the dismay of the 19-year-old kid in the Carolina polo next to me, was that Tyler's little sister is a genius and took a serious tour of Duke. "I think she just likes making her daddy pay for free trips to places," Grandpa jokes, as he says his granddaughter has gone to California and all over the east coast to see those "fancy Ivies."

So long story short, if any Hansbrough is reading this out there: 1) Your Grandpa is awesome, and please thank him on my behalf for talking to some random girl wearing "the wrong shade of blue." It was quite an experience for someone who loves college basketball the way I do; and 2) Sister Hansbrough, if you want to come to Duke, we would welcome you with open arms. Think about it, this girl might have the best conversation starter during orientation week of any Duke matriculant in history: "Yeah, I have a couple brothers. You might know one of them. His name's Tyler? Yeah. He used to play basketball at some school around here. No big deal."


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