Pacers coach Frank Vogel must have known the first question he’d hear from the media assembled at MSG for Knicks-Pacers Game 5 would concern concussed point guard George Hill.
How would the Pacers replace their best ballhandler and distributor?
He was ready with a response.
D.J. Augstin would start in Hill’s place, but replacing him would be a group effort, a group that included rarely used rookie Ben Hansbrough. Not only would Hansbrough be the backup point, but Vogel said “We could still play Ben and D.J. together. Ben is not just looked at as a backup for D.J.. If you play Lance Stephenson as the backup one, you need to replace your wing minutes because Lance is going to play less at wing. Your options go to Orlando Johnson, Gerald Green, Sam Young in extended minutes. We could even use Ben and a smaller guard to counter their two point guard attack.”
Did you hear that?!
Ben Hansbrough was going to get real minutes, not this garbage time stuff.
Flash back two years, and Ben is the reigning Big East Player of the Year. After his stellar senior campaign in South Bend, the Notre Dame point guard seemed like a lock to make the league, and stay on as a backup combo guard with real range. I shamelessly, relentlessly promoted this possibility on Twitter.
That future never came to be. Instead, Hansbrough went to play in Germany for Bayern Munich. Ben couldn’t get on the court, and there was speculation he couldn’t get on with his coach at Bayern, and was released midway through the season. As Eurobasket put it:
Sometimes even when there seems to be a positive trend in the play with a player, it doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is blooming like a beautiful moon flower blooming in moonlight.
So true. Ben hopped over to Slovenia and Krka Novo Mesto, but didn’t even last a month before leaving for personal reasons.
All that didn’t matter as Hansbrough warmed up before Game 5. The rest of the Pacers had long left the court, but Hansbrough’s lingered to find the zone. As he worked through a series of ball screen moves against invisible defense, you could see him conjuring Tyson Chandler’s outstretched arms as he lofted running hooks off the backboard and softly through the net.
Hansbrough stepped back behind phantom screens, setting his feet before releasing a pure jumper. “This kind of thing could actually give the Knicks some trouble,” I thought to myself.
At the end of Game 5, Hansbrough walked off the court at Madison Square Garden without so much as breaking a sweat or squeaking a sneaker. He never played. The expectation and earnest intensity that had filled the otherwise empty half court during his warmup was all in vain. Had Vogel purposefully fed the media some misinformation?
When I went to the Pacers locker room to ask him if had believed he would play, Hansbrough was already dressed and gone.
Three hours earlier, just before terminating his warmup, Hansbrough called for the assistant coach working with him to feed him for one last jumper. Hansbrough caught, and with mechanical precision, snapped off one last swish.
The ball rolled back to him and he spiked it with his fist. Hansbrough jogged back to the lockerroom, ready for a moment that never came.