By Bill Sorrell
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (BP)—Tyler Hansbrough, a renowned professional athlete who grew up as a Missouri Southern Baptist in Poplar Bluff, has learned that he can rely on God’s presence in his life.
“The biggest thing for me, God’s always been someone there I can talk to when things get really tough,” the Indiana Pacers forward said. “A lot of people just say they only talk to God when they are afraid.
“It’s good to develop that relationship and realize that He is there for you during the good times. I know that God is there with me in good times and bad times. That is why I am so strong in my faith.”
When he was in fifth grade, Hansbrough, 24, was baptized at First Baptist Church in Poplar Bluff. His faith further grew in junior high, he said. He was a member of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
His faith has also been tested. Hansbrough’s brother Greg was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor at age 7.
“Doctors thought he was going to die,” Tyler said.
He underwent surgery at Mayo Clinic and was told that even if he survived the cancer, he might never walk again. A month later, Greg was back on his feet. He completed his first marathon in 2003 in St. Louis. He ran track at Poplar Bluff High School, and when he played basketball, he received standing ovations.
“I think God had a healing hand in that,” Tyler said. “(Greg) pulled through everything. He is doing well. My brother has always been a role model.”
At Poplar Bluff, Greg wore number 50. As a tribute, Tyler wore the number at the University of North Carolina. No one ever will again, as the school retired the number after Tyler’s record-setting career.
He was the first player in Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) history to be unanimously selected four times to the all-conference team, and the first player in ACC history to lead his school in both scoring and rebounding in each of his four seasons.
He won six major national player of the year awards in 2007-08 and tied for second behind Blake Griffin for the Associated Press national player of the year in 2008-09. He set the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) record for most free throws in a career (968) and conference records for most career points (2,836), most career points as a junior (2,168), and most career 20-point games (75).
Hansbrough was named the Sporting News College Basketball Athlete of the Decade in 2009 and led the Tar Heels to the 2009 NCAA national championship. In the 2009 National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, the Pacers selected Hansbrough 13th overall.
This year as an NBA rookie, Hansbrough averaged 8.5 points and 4.8 rebounds per game. Early in the season he battled a right shin injury sustained in college.
“I know that everything I do there is a reason for it,” Hansbrough said. “I know that (God) is guiding me in the right direction. I don’t necessarily go out and preach a lot but I’ve always tried to stay true to my faith.”
Staying faithful and not getting “caught up in all that other stuff” keeps him grounded against temptations that come with the NBA territory.
“I’m not a big, wild guy anyway,” he said. “Jesus means so much to me. It’s hard to put it in one sentence. He has always been someone who has been there for me. I always take time out of my day and make sure that I get in touch with God. It is my chance to tell him what is on my mind.”