And just like that, the narrative for UNC basketball changes heading into the season. Late Thursday night, the Tar Heels issued a solemn press release stating that superstar big man Tyler Hansbrough had been diagnosed with a stress reaction in his shin and would be out indefinitely.
Depending upon one's generalized perspective, the news can be inferred as a potentially devastating setback or as a mere blip on the way toward a great season.
On the downside, it appears Hansbrough may miss his first game since taking the court for the Heels in 2005. Not only that, no timetable was given for his expected return, likely owing to the uncertain nature of stress-related injuries. The typical recovery calls for rest, but how much downtime will be required is unknown.
Worse, UNC has traveled this path very recently. Senior guard Bobby Frasor missed several games during his sophomore season due to a stress reaction in his foot, and in fact he never fully regained his quickness nor his confidence that season.
All that said, there are at least a few reasons Hansbrough's injury ultimately may resemble the mysterious "intestinal disorder" that afflicted Rashad McCants late in UNC's championship run in 2004-05.
To wit, while many fans panicked due to McCants' missed games in February, he came back and played at a very high level in the tournament. And Hansbrough's injury obviously has been diagnosed during the preseason, so even a more prolonged absence likely would by smoothed over in time for March and April.
Additionally, while Frasor's injury limited his productivity for an entire year, the stress reaction occurred in his foot, clearly a more important body part for basketball than the shin. Albeit to a lesser extent, Hansbrough has struggled with stress injuries in the past, so it's also highly unlikely he'll be affected mentally at the point he does return.
Hansbrough's father, Gene, is an orthopedic surgeon who told the News & Observer that "I think he'll get well pretty quick. … These things happen, and he'll be all right."
Perhaps the rosiest, Obama-will-win-in-Georgia analysis is that any missed time for Hansbrough will serve to accelerate the development of the program's talented freshmen big men: Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller.
At Duke, for example, the Blue Devils ultimately benefited from Carlos Boozer's broken foot in 2001. For the first time that season, frontcourt reserves Casey Sanders and Reggie Love — who, incidentally, now works as an Obama aide — became comfortable with greater minutes and added valuable depth when Boozer did return. The result: a national championship.
As long as Hansbrough returns to full strength at some point during the next four months, the Heels' mission to win their latest national title should remain intact as well.