Unknown to most except the most diehard Tar Heels fans, North Carolina’s roster includes six seniors.
Two of them, Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson, have regularly seen action and contributed to UNC’s performances throughout their time in Carolina blue and white.
The final home game of the season against Miami signaled the swan song for Ginyard and Thompson, both of whom have experienced the athletic apex with last season’s national championship and the dismal trenches of this season’s poignant struggles.
The seniors ended their play at the Dean E. Smith Center with a win over the Miami Hurricanes, 69-62—UNC’s second consecutive conference win following the Feb. 27 game against Wake Forest. More significantly, with the win, the school reached the 2,000 wins milestone, trailing only Kentucky in that category.
The Heels’ record now stands at 16-14, 5-10 ACC with only one game left, a rematch with archrival Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium this weekend.
The benchmark not only is an incredible feat in its own right, but seemingly served as consolation for Ginyard and Thompson, who have persevered on the court despite a disappointing last season. The occasion allowed the Tar Heel faithful to show their appreciation and send them off on a positive note.
Fans will remember Ginyard for his tenacious defense and upbeat demeanor, both on and off the court. After missing last season entirely, Ginyard bounced back as a fifth-year senior, always presenting himself positively to the public and never giving up on his teammates in the face of high expectations and burdened with a leadership role among inexperienced youth.
Ginyard was given the responsibility of guarding the opponent’s best scorer, and he fulfilled his job immaculately. Ginyard shut down many players such as Stephen Curry (Davidson), Drew Neitzel (Michigan St.), Alex Harris (UCSB), but none were as memorable or gratifying as a raucous away game at No. 1 Duke during the Blue Devils’ senior night. As a freshman, Ginyard was primarily responsible for J.J. Redick’s tearful exit by limiting the senior to one field goal in his last 16 attempts.
He never played the headlining role throughout the years; he left that for more offensive-minded players, but Ginyard never spared boosting team morale by frequently barking encouragement and showed his enthusiasm with his defensive prowess and optimistic attitude.
Like Ginyard, a whirlwind of emotions resulting from highs and lows marked Thompson’s four years in Tar Heel uniform. His imposing size belied the normally soft-spoken nature of the California native.
Being so far away from home and relegated to a supporting role behind Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright, it took Thompson some time to grow comfortable in his own skin. Even as his role expanded, he never developed into much of a vocal leader. Instead, he let his actions speak for themselves, leading by example.
Like Ginyard, Thompson never craved the limelight. He merely wanted to do what was best for the team and to ensure that they could win.
Thompson’s hard work, consistency, and improvement were displayed in many games, whether it was winning the Maui Invitational over Notre Dame or beating Ohio State during the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. He scored regularly and blocked shots often for key conference wins. Moreover, his play during NCAA Tournament games showcased his worth as a player on the biggest stage, from a heartbreaking East regional loss to Georgetown to the Tar Heels’ championship win over Michigan State.
Neither Ginyard nor Thompson will go down in Tar Heel lore as star players in the mold of Hansbrough, Lennie Rosenbluth, Phil Ford, or Michael Jordan. However, they have already joined a group of elite players in the nation’s premier college basketball program’s history regardless of how their final season concludes, for they have a national title to their name.
Even in North Carolina's centennial year, only four other teams can claim and enjoy that paramount honor.