Marcus Ginyard has gone from being North Carolina's do-everything leader on one Final Four team to a cheerleading fixture on the bench. Ask the senior about that change, and it's clear he doesn't want to make a big deal about it.
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Marcus Ginyard has gone from being North Carolina’s do-everything leader on one Final Four team to a cheerleading fixture on the bench on its next. Ask the senior about that change, and it’s clear he doesn’t want to make a big deal about it.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I get the best seat in the house. I’m in the huddles. I’m in the locker room. I get to hold the trophy. I’ve got an easy job, man.”
Still, that lighthearted answer hides plenty of hurt and disappointment. A preseason foot surgery that was supposed to have him out until December turned into a season-ender, robbing him of a starting spot on the Tar Heels’ latest Final Four squad. Making it even tougher is the fact he’s now healthy enough to practice, though his decision to redshirt has reduced him merely to pushing his teammates in workouts to make sure they’re prepared.
“I’m definitely looking at it a totally different way now,” he said. “I just stopped thinking about wanting to be out there. That’s what kills you, when you start thinking about that. So now, I’m just trying to watch. I’m just trying to support. It’s a totally different attitude to take to the game, but that’s just the easiest way to get past the hurt of not being out there.”
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Ginyard’s absence doesn’t show up in the stats for the Tar Heels (32-4), who face Villanova in Saturday’s national semifinals in Detroit. North Carolina has rolled through the NCAA tournament with four straight double-figure wins, has five starters averaging at least 11 points and a bench that goes nine deep.
But Ginyard was the guy content to do the little things while everyone else took all the shots during last year’s Final Four run. He started all 39 games and averaged about seven points and five rebounds, but was North Carolina’s best perimeter defender, played four different positions due to injuries and foul trouble, and was the team’s unquestioned leader.
He figured to have that role again this year before having surgery in October to repair a stress fracture in his left foot. He was expected back by midseason, but his recovery was slower than expected and he didn’t look like the same player when he returned. He had four points in three ineffective appearances before announcing in February that he would seek a medical redshirt.
Fellow senior Bobby Frasor has an idea how Ginyard feels. He missed most of last season after tearing a knee ligament, while his teammates went on to set a school record with 36 victories.
“Marcus has done a great job of putting on a good face and being our No. 1 cheerleader and really being excited for the guys and having fun on the bench,” Frasor said. “I tried to do that last year. But I think it’s got to be even harder than I went through because you see your senior class out there playing. They’re going to be done after this weekend, but you’ve got to come back and have a year by yourself with the guys you didn’t come here with.
“Personally, if it were me, it would be kind of hard to take.”
Ginyard’s biggest contribution now comes in practice. While coach Roy Williams said Ginyard still isn’t 100 percent, he’s been good enough to lead the so-called “Blue Team” of reserves who push the starters. His defense is extremely valuable in that role considering perimeter threats Wayne Ellington and Danny Green aren’t going to encounter many defenders who make them work harder for shots than Ginyard.
It’s a role Ginyard takes seriously. And with his versatility, he’s even taken turns guarding big men Tyler Hansbrough or Deon Thompson in the post.
“Right now, that’s the best way I can contribute,” he said. “You’ve just got to do everything in your power to make it as tough as possible. There’s definitely not a day where I think I’m going to take it easy on anybody.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to push them harder. Give them an extra push. Foul them a little harder. Try not to kill them, but it’s getting them ready to take that extra bump or push knowing that sometimes it doesn’t get called.”
As difficult as it’s been for him, it’s clear Ginyard is proud of his teammates and excited by their success. That’s particularly true of their recent improved play on defense, long considered the Tar Heels’ weak point. Many figured the they wouldn’t be able to overcome the loss of their top defender, but they have held teams to about 66 points per game in the tournament.
That said, Ginyard still has a fantasy of running right by Williams on the sideline to check into the game despite the fact he’s wearing a suit.
“There’s some days that I don’t feel as good as others, but I definitely could play,” Ginyard said. “I’ve been excited to get out there. I haven’t thought about next year quite yet. I’m just trying to be here for my teammates right now.”