The next few days will ultimately determine Tyler Hansbrough's college basketball legacy.
Accolades aren't the issue for the North Carolina senior. Few players can match being national and ACC player of the year, a consensus first-team All-American three times (and second-team as a freshman) and the career scoring leader at UNC and in the ACC.
Hansbrough's been the face of college basketball for nearly three years, as the best player on one of the sport's most storied programs. He's led the Heels in scoring and rebounding for four years, the only player to ever do so. UNC's won nearly 85 percent of its games – 122-22 in the last four years – a mark only a few players in NCAA history can surpass.
"People talk about legends," UNC senior guard Bobby Frasor told the Raleigh News & Observer. "I think [Tyler] is going to have a legend quality about him. The stories are going to build up and build up. People talk about [him eating] sushi now; in 20 years, it's going to be Tyler ate a live cow or something."
He'll surely go down as one of the best players of his era, perhaps even of the last decade. But without an NCAA tournament title, will Hansbrough's legacy be remembered as really good, but not elite?
Does Hansbrough need a trophy to be considered an all-time great?
"His career is bigger than that," Dave Odom, the former coach at Wake Forest and South Carolina, told ESPN before the tournament. "There's always one more thing he can accomplish ... but if [his career ended] today he's one of the greats in all ACC history. He plays every possession as if it was his last and conducted himself as the ultimate student-athlete."
Odom's view takes into account the larger picture regarding Hansbrough.
Today's athletes rarely live up to the massive expectations heaped upon them, whether by the media or by fans. It was true of Tim Duncan, a national player of the year who never could take Odom's Demon Deacons into the Final Four during four stellar seasons.
In that sense, Hansbrough's already surpassed some of the greats who finished their college careers without winning it all.
Pete Maravich was a scorer nonpareil and three-time All-American, but never even played in the NCA tournament. Wayman Tisdale was a force for Oklahoma in the '80s, garnering All-America honors three times, but couldn't get to a Final Four.
Others dominating players like Jerry West, Elvin Hayes, Wilt Chamberlain and Ralph Sampson all reached the Final Four, but fell short of a title. They're considered among the game's all-time greats.
Would Hansbrough ever be considered among their class? Perhaps.
"He stands for what's good about college basketball," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said before the tournament. "He didn't run and take the money. He's good for athletics, period. It's how hard you work and how hard you focus, and that's what he stands for in college basketball. That's why he'll be remembered as one of the greatest players to ever play [in college]."
Of course, Williams may be a little biased. Hansbrough's a rare breed in today's game – an star player who stays all four years, stays out of trouble, wins games, all that good stuff.
Still, Williams probably isn't alone in that regard. People's reasons for choosing their best player of all-time usually vary, and it doesn't always include winning a title. These Sports Illustrated writers didn't pick the best scorer (Maravich) or the guys who won the most (Alcindor, Walton and the rest of John Wooden's unstoppable Bruins), but focused on other aspects.
Perhaps they were supremely gifted players overwhelming opponents (David Robinson), or got the most out of limited abilities (Chris Mullin) or were simply … cool (Jimmy Walker).
Surely Hansbrough, a player lauded for his unceasing effort and ferocious style down low, would be lauded one day as a great.
If a guy like Oklahoma's Blake Griffin – the likely No. 1 pick in this year's NBA draft and the player likely to prevent Hansbrough from winning a second straight national player of the year award – can give Hansbrough some props, how long until opinion sways in favor of the UNC star?
"He seems like he never gives up and he's always ready to go," Griffin said. "And just also the consistency he's played with over four years. I don't know how many he's averaged over his career, but obviously if he's the ACC-leading scorer, he's done a great job."
Don't ask Hansbrough what he thinks of all this. He's always been a humble star, reluctant to offer sweeping opinions on topics, let alone his place in the game's history. He hasn't even thought about life after the NCAA tournament, let alone out of school.
"I'm not gonna let that affect me right now. I'll think about it in a couple weeks when I'm done," Hansbrough said this week.
"I guess I've prepared myself mentally to leave, but I still think when you're gone you're gonna miss the silly things being in the locker and things like that."
A trickier question: If the Tar Heels do cut down the nets Monday, yet Hansbrough is largely ineffective, what then?
He took just four shots and finished with eight points in Sunday's showdown with Griffin. If it's Ty Lawson or Wayne Ellington or another Heel who makes the big plays in Detroit, what then? Will Hansbrough's legacy be hurt because he wasn't the driving force behind a championship?
Maybe. But it's doubtful Hansbrough would care – especially since he's crucial to Carolina's success.
If he's on the court, opposing defenses' primary concern is stopping Hansbrough. If his presence creates opportunities for teammates, then he's one of the reasons behind a victory. If he carries the load and the Heels win, even better.
Williams has coached plenty of stars during his 21 seasons, including Paul Pierce, Drew Gooden, Scott May and Kirk Hinrich. But Hansbrough may be better than all of them.
"He's a unique young man. That's the best way I can describe him. To me when something is really unique, that means you can't find many of them. And I don't think you can find many Tyler Hansbroughs," Williams said. "I've said before, and I'll say again, I've been awfully lucky."
Perhaps we're the lucky ones. It's not every day you get to watch an all-time great.