Tuesday night's game versus Miami will be Senior Night marking the final regular season game for Deon Thompson, Marcus Ginyard and Marc Campbell. In this season, which can charitably be described at the bizzaro version of last season, it is probably fitting that Senior Night is the mirror of the one last season. A year ago it was a tight and pressure filled game versus Duke. The ACC regular season title was on the line, possibly a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It was Tyler Hansbrough's last home game and Ty Lawson was questionable with a toe injury. UNC won and nearly everyone stayed in their seats to hear from Hansbrough, Bobby Frasor, Danny Green and Mike Copeland. It was probably one of the most emotional Senior Games ever given we were saying goodbye to Hansbrough who with the other three players might be the most beloved senior class in UNC history.
This season, it is doubtful the Dean Dome will even be full, much less after the game ends. Deon Thompson and Marcus Ginyard will walk away having helmed one of the worst seasons of UNC basketball since Dean Smith was hung in effigy. These two role players over the first three seasons of their careers were thrust into the limelight this season and have really not performed to a level most of us(and no doubt they) had hoped. Like Jason Capel and Kris Lang, they bear the brunt of the fan ire for a Lost Season and while half of Tar Heel nation probably pities them, the other half takes every opportunity to rip them as though the word DUKE was written on their uniform.
Thompson, throughout his career, has always been flashes rather than a steady beam of light. There has always been an air of potential, a waiting for some breakout moment that turns Thompson into consistent contributor. Through three season, it never happened because (1) it really did not have to and (2) even if it did there were brighter lights on the stage than him which made whatever he did gravy. Well, with the exception of certain situations. During his freshman year there were two games in particular that buoyed this idea that Thompson would eventually flourish into a very good player. Thompson had a pair of games where he registered 14 points and six rebounds. The first was on the road at Arizona when Brandan Wright missed the game due to sickness. The second came in the East Regional Final versus Georgetown. Thompson's play in that game was huge since it was 14 points off the bench and helped UNC jump out to a fairly secure lead before all hell broke loose. Those performances followed by a summer spent with the USA U19 team during which Thompson played extremely well set in motion certain expectations which were ultimately never really met. Not that it matter during his first two seasons as a starters. Tyler Hansbrough sucks a lot of oxygen out of the paint on top of that, UNC has so many good offensive options, whatever Thompson did was filler in some games. Still, a role player is important and UNC played enough tight games that whatever scoring Thompson did provide was pivotal to the team's success. Still, Thompson did not produce all that many memorable games. In 2008, Thompson would only reach double figures 13 times but enjoyed nice stretch in the NCAA Tournament. However that followed an ACC Tournament in which Thompson a total of eight points in three games. That, more than anything else, illustrated the problem most fans have with Thompson. He disappears. Last season, Thompson did play well early on, especially during the absence of Hansbrough while he recovered from a shin injury. After Hansbrough's return, Thompson became less noticed contented in the role. Again, this was fine and expected. I would call his play in both Duke games pivotal, especially the first one where he and Bobby Frasor made huge baskets to keep UNC in the game in the first half. During the NCAA Tournament he was there then not then there again with his nine points early in the title game setting the tone for UNC's general dominance of Michigan St.
In short, all of these moments are simply that, moments. This season was Thompson chance to convert those flashes of solid play into something more, something that would place him in at least in the same company as Ademola Okulaja who carried the 1999 team. Unfortunately for Thompson it never panned. There are various reasons for that. While you cannot put the team's losing all at his feet, he does bear some of the blame for having far too many games where his rebounding numbers were too low or he did not score often enough. This season, like Thompson's entire career has flashes. Certainly the NC State game in Raleigh was one but this team needed more than flashes, it needed a steady offensive option on the floor to curtail an opposing team's run. Thompson could never make that transition from role player to "the guy." So what is Thompson's legacy? He is probably more closely aligned to a Brian Reese who had tons of potential but never really did anything memorable(outside of missing a game winner vs Cincinnati and stepping on the sideline in the 1993 title game.) Outside of that I cannot remember much that Reese did and I am thinking some 10 or 15 years from now the same will be said of Thompson. He was a good role player who had a few nice moments. Of course Thompson also has over 1300 points in his career at UNC which is something. He did win a national title, represented the United Stats in international play twice and by all accounts is a solid citizen. Did his career level off and his final team had a horrible season? Sure. Should that be the sole criteria on which he is judged? Probably not but fans have short attention spans and "what have you done for me" lately mentalities. That is why the only time we ever mention Shammond Williams is when discussing backbreaking choke job shooting performances in the Final Four. Thompson's legacy will ultimately be the last games we see him play which is unfortunate but reality.
Marcus Ginyard, on the other hand, is probably less notable than even Thompson. Like, Thompson, Ginyard was a role player who was labeled early and often as a defensive stopper. Like so many Tar Heels before him, Ginyard was that guy who did a little bit of everything on the court. He was not flashy or even something you noticed yet the box score comes out and there is Ginyard with eight points, six boards, three steals and a blocked shot. Ginyard did the little things and quite well by all accounts though the argument could be made(and proven in 2009) that Danny Green could do all those same things and was an offensive threat. Still, there was plenty to like about the way Ginyard played the game during his first three seasons and certainly the way he carried himself off the court as well. Then injury struck, robbing him of the chance to play on the 2009 title team. This is where I ultimately feel sorry for Ginyard. Instead of going out last season with the guys he showed up with and winning a title(setting aside the theory that Ginyard over Green may have created issues) he goes out with this abysmal season with his standing among fans somewhat damaged. What's more is Ginyard worked his you know what off to come back for this season. By all accounts he did what he needed to do during the offseason. Ginyard showed up in October in great physical shape, stronger and one of the best conditioned players on the team. Early on it showed when Ginyard had double digit scoring games in New York the posted 13 versus Texas. In games he might not be scoring much he was dishing out assists or getting steals. Then the injury bug bit again. Ginyard missed four games total, including three in a row and since then has never really returned to form aside from the past two games where he registered 10 and 13 rebounds. Anyone who plays sports at a high level who gets injured, recovers then gets injured again, knows confidence is a fragile thing. Fear ultimately inserts hesitation into your decision making process. The trust between you brain and your body is broken and the results are often haphazard at best. That is ultimately what did Ginyard in this season. Yes, his turnovers were still a problem but the whole team was racked with that particular virus. Still, early on there were signs Ginyard could be a solid contributor but post injury it failed to materialize.
Of course, Ginyard's legacy might have more to do with the shadow of David Noel than anything else. Heading into this season the comparisons to 2006 abounded and Ginyard was tabbed as the next David Noel. If you take nothing else from this, please take the knowledge that when anyone is labeled "the next" something, chances are they will failed to be the very thing you labeled them. So it was with Ginyard. Why? Well it probably had something to do with the fact he was not David Noel. It also may have something to do with the fact Noel, for as much love as we shower him with, was really a role player in 2006 on the court while being the senior leader. Noel had Hansbrough. He had Reyshawn Terry, Wes Miller and others to carry some of the load. Ginyard was expected to be more of an offensive threat without the benefit of other offensive threats on the floor whether by injury or poor play. Couple that with his injury and you get a perfect storm of crapitude I would not wish on anyone save Duke. So, at the end of the day, Ginyard really leaves us without much to distinguish himself. Ginyard was even more of a role player than Thompson due in part to his lack of an offensive repertoire. I think he had his moments but they are tougher to conjure up which is too bad. However, I appreciate his effort both on the court and in attempting to return to the court post injury. Ginyard, like Thompson, is a solid citizen and a great representative of the Carolina family. For that he should be commended.
I am fairly certain I am correct in saying that no one wishes it could have been different more than these two. Whatever suffering you think you have endured this season watching your favorite team lose 14 games, multiply it by thousands and you have what it is like for these guys. These guys are invested at such a deep level. Expending the energy and effort they have only to have the season fall apart so horribly is a pretty sucky deal. However it is what it is. Hopefully we can all put aside the bad and honor them for their contributions, regardless of the context. Despite the state of this season, these two, along with Marc Campbell are still Tar Heels now and forever. And for that I would like to simply say: