Dick Harmon: Former BYU basketball star Travis Hansen is a 'regular guy' whose life has made a big difference to others

Published: Sunday, Sept. 25 2011 3:20 a.m. MDT

Travis Hansen and his baby daughter Halle. The Hansens adopted Halle a few months ago from Indiana. She was sealed to the Hansens in December in the Salt Lake LDS Temple.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

PROVO— Travis Hansen just retired from professional basketball at the age of 33.

A guy that young shouldn't have done all he's done. Since leaving Mountain View High, Utah Valley University, BYU, the NBA and a high-level lucrative career in European basketball, he's made millions. Yet he projects himself as a regular guy with a regular home and life. If he sells his fancy car, which he vows he will do, and wears around denims with holes in the legs like he did this week, the ruse might eventually work.

"Really, I'm just a regular kind of guy," he says.

Regular guys don't play against LeBron James and call Houston Rockets star Luis Scola a teammate and best friend. Regular guys don't find themselves making a global health and educational impact on tens of thousands of children from Mali to Nepal, from Moscow to Utah. Regular American blokes don't have former Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin issue you a Russian passport.

If you add it all up, so far, Hansen's impact in this life is quite remarkable.

Hansen is a rare find with Utah roots. In high school, he was a 6-foot-6 guy who could dunk on anybody. He had a 40-inch vertical jump and could play four positions in college, where he earned MVP defensive player of the year honors for BYU before the Atlanta Hawks drafted him in 2003.

Hansen's NBA status opened doors in Europe where he played championship-caliber ball for Tau Ceramica in Victoria, Spain, before going to Moscow and playing for Russia's best team, Dynamo. He played for Real Madrid from 2009-2010 before finishing last year with Khimki in Moscow, where he joined former Utah Jazz guard Raul Lopez in winning the Moscow Championship.

"I'd love to play three more years," says Hansen. "I'm going to miss it. But this has been our goal all along that when our oldest son Ryder turned eight, we wanted to be done. It just feels right."

Just eight years ago, Hansen and his wife LaRee left Provo for Atlanta and LaRee was in tears — she'd never been away from home and family. In the NBA, nightly games place players in different major cities every day, and limos pull up to airports and transport players to nightclubs for partying, drinking and a lifestyle which was foreign to Travis.

Hansen made a decision not to partake — it wasn't him. What followed was the typical story of Mormon kid who is teased, tempted, joked about and poked fun at but in the end earns respect for standing up for his beliefs.

"Yes, it was like that. Very typical," said Hansen.

"It was hard because you wanted to be part of the team and felt like you needed to belong. But you just didn't go. I made great relationships with Jason Terry, Steven Jackson and Shareef Abdur-Rahim.

"They respected me and I believe I came way closer to them than if I'd gone to the nightclubs because I'd have just become another guy at the club to hang out with," he said. "By not going, I totally stood out and built more powerful relationships with them."

At times, Hansen's teammates sought him out for his opinion on morality, mortality and God.

When Hansen left for Europe, the athletes didn't have quite the outlandish lifestyle as NBA players, but there was another challenge for the LDS returned missionary. Europeans struggle with religion.

"Many Europeans have a hard time with religion," Hansen said. "It is a party-pooper subject over there. You bring it up and they're like, 'Let's talk about something else.' "

Still, Hansen found private moments when teammate Luis Scola, an atheist who believes in evolution, came to him to talk about God.

During the Final Four of the European championships in Prague, Scola's father traveled with the team. He had a heart attack during the tournament and was hospitalized the entire time.

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