The answer to Larry Bird's prayers for a white basketball savior might reside just off Highway 67 in Poplar Bluff

"He has a big heart," Ben says of Greg. "He had to learn to walk again."

Tami Wheat refers to the Hansbrough home as "quite the bachelor pad" -- one that has withstood numerous offers on her part to come over and tidy it up. She and Gene divorced in 1995, after twenty years of marriage. A head-turning former Miss Missouri, Wheat has since remarried. Dr. Hansbrough, the boys' primary custodian, is married to his sons.

"I think the fact that both parents want to do what's best for their sons is the biggest thing," offers PBHS head basketball coach John David Pattillo, who lives across the street from Wheat. "Tami comes from an athletic family and Doc has always played basketball. They're willing to do what it takes for their boys to be successful."

The boys' mother, former Miss Missouri Tami Wheat, has offered to tidy up the Hansbrough "bachelor pad" -- to no avail.
Jennifer Silverberg
The boys' mother, former Miss Missouri Tami Wheat, has offered to tidy up the Hansbrough "bachelor pad" -- to no avail.
The Hansbrough boys, Greg, Tyler and Ben, circa  
1992: Note the "traitorous" Broncos T-shirt sported by 
four-year-old Ben.
The Hansbrough boys, Greg, Tyler and Ben, circa 1992: Note the "traitorous" Broncos T-shirt sported by four-year-old Ben.

Tami's dad, Roger Fister, spent ten years in the St. Louis Cardinals' farm system. Her grandfather played in the Detroit Tigers' system. Her brother, Sean "The Beast" Fister, is a long-drive world champion who can hit a golf ball 444 yards. (Perhaps not by coincidence, Tyler slugs his driver 360 yards.) And Gene Hansbrough rises at 6 a.m. daily to play pickup hoops with the likes of Webmaster Richard Browne at Three Rivers C.C., the same place where a raw young swingman named Latrell Sprewell began his circuitous route to NBA stardom.

Notwithstanding the empty quick-and-easy-meal boxes that dot his kitchen countertops, with company staying for supper Gene takes great pains to barbecue steaks and cook red beans and rice from scratch. Meanwhile, the boys do what boys do: ogle Jessica Simpson on cable from leather-recliner perches in the family room. As the brothers voice their approval of the pop star's lofty position on VH1's "Hot 100" countdown of celebrity foxes, buddy Phillip Brown sits in the adjacent den, surfing the Internet.

But Brown isn't in search of hot nude shots of Jessica Simpson. He's perusing the Hansbroughs' conveniently bookmarked recruiting Web sites -- Rivals.com, TheInsidersHoops.com, HoopScooponline.com -- and calling out the current status of Tyler's position in the ever-fluctuating nationwide rankings of the class of '05.

As with smut, the obsessive-compulsive lightning of the roundball-recruiting milieu has been bottled by Internet entrepreneurs. Just as a quick Google search can yield scores of options for sating one's craving for porn, hundreds of sites are dedicated to the NCAA niche. Yearn to learn the latest speculation surrounding which dormitory Tyler Hansbrough will occupy in Chapel Hill? You can Google the guy, no problem. Along the way you'll discover that his dream date is Christina Aguilera, that he palled around with Michael Jordan in Chapel Hill and that the coaching staff at Mizzou staged a cheesy jersey retirement ceremony in an attempt to butter him up.

"The trip to Cancun cinched it for the Tar Heels," writes a Tigerboard.com poster who claims to be an insider and operates under the moniker VoiceOfReason. "It gave Tyler time to analyze the whole situation. Tyler really enjoyed his time with Roy Williams, and Gene didn't mind hanging out with Roy and Michael Jordan. I've seen places where people are saying Gene is the one who made the decision. That's incorrect. Tyler made the decision with some guidance from Gene. I can't place any blame on Gene because he was only looking out for his son. Tyler is a Tarheel [sic]. Let's accept that and move on!"

On this day earlier in the summer, Phillip Brown finds Tyler ranked anywhere from second to eighth in the country. Only a few weeks later, after dominating Alabama schoolboy Richard Hendrix on the trip to the AAU Peach Jam, he'll be a near-consensus number one among prep players nationwide.

With the steaks nearly done, Brown and the brothers Hansbrough figure they can sneak in a quick game of Flyer's Up with a miniature football before it's time to eat. Out on sleepy Autumn Road, Ben and Greg needle Tyler for his inability to throw a football as far as Peyton Manning. This is one area where Ben outstrips his more famous brother. Compelled to choose basketball over football in grade eight, he still has a cannon for a right arm, thrusting the tiny ball well beyond his competing receivers' reach near a fence in the neighbor's front yard. Then it's off to the dinner table.

"Nice work, Dad," Ben teases as he tries to figure out which screening of Spider-Man 2 to take in at the multiplex after dinner. "This is way better than Hot Pockets."

Tyler wonders if his father wouldn't mind grilling some hot dogs for dessert.

The good doctor obliges.

When Larry Bird opined that the NBA is a black man's game that needs more white stars to cultivate a fan base, the statement created a hardy initial media buzz, but his words were perhaps more notable for the lack of negative reaction they generated. Magic Johnson and other black stars quickly defended the legendary Celtic's remarks (including his assertion that he took offense when guarded by white players) as a bold statement of fact.

Tyler Hansbrough concurs, as does his St. Louis Eagles head coach, Erwin Claggett (who is black).

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