Back Together Again

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – When Bobby Frasor limped off the court last December, most observers assumed it was the last time the remaining members of the vaunted ‘05 and ‘06 recruiting classes would ever play together. But against the odds, the key components have returned for another run at a national title.

For a squad that finished 36-3 last season with the ACC Regular Season and Tournament titles, as well as the program's 17th Final Four appearance, there was never a dull moment during the 2007-08 campaign. But amidst the numerous injuries and various struggles mixed in with record-setting performances and triumphant jubilation, no one expected this team to be intact for the 2008-09 season.

Rising juniors Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington became the first Tar Heels to "test the NBA waters" following the season-ending defeat to Kansas in the Final Four, and it's debatable what was more shocking – National Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough's decision to return for his senior season without even flirting with the NBA, or sixth-man Danny Green's decision to check his stock with the professional ranks.

Regardless, the overwhelming thought was that at least one of the three had played his last game in a Tar Heel uniform.

"I was just preparing for the worst and just hoping for the best," said rising senior wing Marcus Ginyard on Monday afternoon, summing up North Carolina's entire fan base's mentality. "Obviously the best would be all three of them coming back and the worst would have been all three of them going, so I was prepared either way."

But when Lawson, Green and Ellington all announced their decisions – just moments before the June 16th deadline – to return to Chapel Hill for another season, the seemingly impossible became reality.

"That was huge," said Frasor, who has recovered well from a torn ACL in his left knee. "No one really knew who was going to stay or who was going to be going. Our team was kind of up in the air for a month there, and once they all announced they were coming back, then we were like, ‘Hey, we're loaded, let's go do it.'"

Green and Ellington insisted on Tuesday that all three of the returning players have put the NBA experience behind them and are ready to improve on last season's phenomenal run.

"I went into it as having a win-win situation – I couldn't really lose," Ellington said. "I just wanted to go in and see what could happen. I went in with that mindset that I wasn't going to be disappointed in any way if I was to come back to UNC, and in fact, I was going to be happy to have another shot at our goal that we have as a team."

And that goal, once again, is to cut down the nets at the Final Four. The only thing that's changed in that regard is the location – from San Antonio last April to Detroit in 2009.

While North Carolina lost Quentin Thomas to graduation and rising junior Alex Stepheson to transfer, head coach Roy Williams added three more McDonald's All-Americans in a four-man freshman class – Tyler Zeller, Ed Davis and Larry Drew, along with Durham, N.C. native Justin Watts.

And while Lawson, Ellington and Green have soaked up much of the summer media attention, there is no discounting the value of Frasor's return. Not only a steady hand on the defensive end of the court – winning defensive player honors five times in his 12 games – but he adds vocal senior leadership for a veteran squad that was lacking in that area last season.

Add all of these parts together, and it's hard to determine what this team has more of – freakish talent or unflappable experience. Either way, it will make for a daunting task for every other program across the country this basketball season.

"I don't know if it's something that I can put into words, but I guess it's just a feeling that there's something out there that you know is yours and it's just a matter of what everybody's going to do to go get it," Ginyard said. "I've felt like more than ever this year that what's out there in Detroit is ours, so we're just excited to get this season going and get closer and closer to that."

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