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San Antonio Consider the names of some of the players who shot jumpers inside the Alamodome on Friday afternoon during their tune-up sessions for the Final Four: Mario Chalmers, Darren Collison, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, Ty Lawson, Kevin Love, Derrick Rose, Brandon Rush, Russell Westbrook.
Household names in college basketball, every one of them. Yet, one player has trumped all 10 combined in terms of gushing reviews given by broadcasters, coaches, teammates and opponents.
If you haven't seen the shot of Tyler Hansbrough's face a bloody mess, you haven't watched much college basketball the past couple of years.
Hansbrough's toughness, intensity and focus have been the story of this season, and it became a recurring theme Friday, no matter who was talking into a microphone.
"He never takes a possession off," Kansas reserve center Sasha Kaun said.
Said North Carolina's Green, the nation's best sixth man: "There are a lot of players who have great focus. Tyler is in a league of his own when it comes to that. When it comes to taking care of business and his body, Tyler is on another level."
On and on it went, with coaches Bill Self and Roy Williams weighing in with similar sentiments.
Sure, Hansbrough, a bit of a dirty player, deserves all the accolades, but it's not as if he's the only tough guy who leads with his elbows, backs down from nobody and brings relentless effort to every possession.
Kaun doesn't have anywhere near the basketball skill of Hansbrough, and Darnell Jackson doesn't have Hansbrough's length and post-up skills. But if a coach needed to ask two players to take turns matching Hansbrough's buzz-saw efficiency, matching him shove for shove, he could do worse than having two seniors who have had their share of tragedy with which to deal in their young lives.
Jackson looked back Friday one more time on the night all his personal tragedies - death of and injuries to loved ones - reached such an overwhelming point that he drove home to Oklahoma City, early in Jan., 2007, convinced he was dropping out of school.
"When I was going through all that, I was just thinking my world was coming to an end, and I was ready to give it all up," Jackson said. "Even when coach (Bill) Self and coach (Ronnie) Chalmers came to talk to me about it, I was still talking about not coming back. Coach Self just stayed on me because he didn't want me to make a wrong decision because I didn't know how to handle all the pressure that was going on. He helped me out."
Jackson became so swallowed up at the bad karma going on at that point in his life that he even blamed himself for it putting a spell on Kansas basketball to such a degree the Jayhawks were bounced from the NCAA Tournament in the first round his first two seasons.
"Coach Self was out in front of my house, and I told him that I think I should leave because ever since I came to Kansas bad things happened," Jackson said. "I thought it was me. He gave me a hug, told me he loved me, and when he hugged me, I just felt so safe and comfortable around him, I wanted to come back."
Now, Jackson said, he wants to see his coach cry after winning a national title.
Jackson's expression during games, and the way he runs, at times reveals his back is troubling him, but he never talks about it, never calls attention to it any way. If his back allows him to play free and easy tonight, and Hansbrough still has a big game, it won't be because the North Carolina junior is any tougher than Jackson. More talented, yes. Tougher, no.
A native of Tomsk, Russia, Kaun, too, has had his share of struggles on his way to the Final Four. When Sasha was 13, his father, Oleg, died of gas poisoning in the family's garage. Sasha said that his father was too happy a man for the family to believe it could have been suicide. Sasha described him as "upbeat." Sasha's mother, Olga, has speculated Oleg could have been murdered.
"There were definitely suspicions," Sasha said. "But who knows exactly what happened."
Kaun has enjoyed having his mother with him since before Christmas. She is in the United States on a six-month visa.
"I'm relaxed with her here," Kaun said. "She's happier, and I'm happier."
Kaun left Russia to enroll in a Florida high school at the age of 16, the same age Jackson's mother was when she gave birth to him. Both players gave compelling Senior Night speeches, and both are intent on pushing the season to the final game.
From a pure talent standpoint, Jackson, Kaun and fellow senior Russell Robinson would rank fifth through seventh among the players who get the majority of minutes for Kansas, but from a toughness/durability standpoint, nobody would rank any higher, not even Hansbrough.
Jackson said he was given the nickname "D-Block" during a recruiting visit when he scrimmaged with the Kansas players who thought he played with a ruggedness befitting an inmate. Hansbrough's style of play inspired his "Psycho T" nickname. Kaun and Jackson, with a little help from Cole Aldrich, are the right guys to match Psycho T's March madness. KU's Darrell Arthur knows that.
"Both of them play physical like he does," Arthur said. "Both of them go after the rebounds like he does."
Arthur, more of a finesse player, can have a role, too, by drawing fouls against Hansbrough and by staying out of foul trouble himself so that he can stay in the game and put pressure on the Carolina defense in ways Jackson and Kaun can't.
Kaun best summed up how to minimize Hansbrough's impact: "We need to put a body on him."
It won't be the first tough challenge life has dealt Jackson and Kaun.
So, just how would you capture the euphoria of victory - or, god forbid, the agony of defeat - in just a few words?
As the Jayhawks get ready for their big game against North Carolina in the Final Four, we're giving everyone a chance to submit their suggested headlines for Sunday morning's paper.
Some advice: Be clever, descriptive and, of course, concise. Remember: Your optimistic words just might end up being prophetic.
For now, we'll stick with taking ideas for the national semifinal, the one pitting Bill Self and the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks against Roy Williams and his No. 1-seeded Tar Heels.
Show off your headlines by going to www2.ljworld.com/headline and leaving your suggestion in the comments.