A Difficult Fifth Year

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – The preseason table seemed set for fan favorite Marcus Ginyard to guide a young but talented roster past the clutches of a rebuilding year and into the promised land of a surprising Final Four run. Through 17 games, this season hasn't quite lived up to that fairytale.

As soon as Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington decided to forgo their senior seasons in Chapel Hill to play for pay in the NBA, Tar Heel fans promptly labeled their fifth-year senior as the second coming of David Noel with hopes that Ginyard would replicate the leadership role that No. 34 made famous during the 23-8 (12-4 ACC) run in '05-'06.

Even media members quietly rejoiced about Ginyard's return. At a place like North Carolina, where wins are expected and losses are earth-shattering events, it is difficult at times to find a player willing to speak openly and honestly mere moments after an upset loss.

Ginyard has always been the safety net, providing a frank and detailed analysis of his team's performance regardless of what may have just occurred on the court. But following Wednesday night's 19-point loss to Clemson, it was clear that Ginyard wanted to be somewhere else – anywhere else – than sitting at his locker having to answer the same questions that have followed this team through its 1-5 record on the road.

It's easy to understand the senior's frustrations. This is a kid that was robbed of a starting role on the 2008-09 national championship team due to a fluke foot injury. He was expecting to return to action against Michigan State on Dec. 3, 2008, but lingering issues led to an announced medical red-shirt last February.

Two months later, a sharply-dressed Ginyard sat on the bench and witnessed his teammates throttle the Spartans for the program's fifth NCAA national championship.

Ask anyone associated with the North Carolina program about Ginyard's contributions during that title run and they will tell you that the Alexandria, Va. native was an important piece of the puzzle behind the scenes. But in the end, fourteen Tar Heels etched their legacy in the history books by logging time in the 2009 national championship game, including walk-ons such as J.B. Tanner and Patrick Moody, and all Ginyard could do was watch.

"He's still a wonderful kid," UNC head coach Roy Williams told reporters on Friday. "He's got all of the qualities that you want in a young person. But he's also suffered quite a bit. He suffered quite a bit not being a great participant in the team that won the national championship."

In what was assumed to be his redemption year, Ginyard has been saddled with a pair of recent injuries (foot, ankle) that sidelined him for four games while also watching his squad lose composure and miss assignments at crucial points on the road. Struggles were expected for this team, but the utter lack of improvement over the first two months of the season has been alarming.

"There's no question that it's been a tremendous challenge," Ginyard said. "It's tough. Sometimes I feel like I don't always have the answers or that I don't necessarily know what to do to try to help to get this team to change. But at the end of the day, we all know that we need a change and I'm just trying to find a way to do it. It's a team effort for sure, but there's no question that I do feel a little responsibility to be that leader and get the team headed in the right direction."

In the loss to Clemson, Ginyard tallied four points, two rebounds and five turnovers. In his first two games back after missing the College of Charleston defeat with a sprained right ankle, the senior has scored six points, grabbed four rebounds and committed eight turnovers.

Ginyard was asked on Friday if he was playing at 100 percent following the pair of injuries, and the senior paused, trying to gather his thoughts in what amounted to be a 13-second delay.

He then said: "The bottom line is that I feel I should be just playing a little better out there and being a better leader out there on the court."

There's no doubt that he's trying. When the College of Charleston took a 37-36 lead into halftime, it was Ginyard that huddled his team in the entryway before returning to the court, encouraging his teammates and imploring them to stay focused in the second half. But mistakes would occur anyway as North Carolina coughed up a late 11-point lead before eventually losing in overtime.

"There's more stress on him," Williams said. "I've asked him to do more things, to be more of a leader, to be more of a scorer, to be more of this and to be more of that… The other thing is that a little adversity, I do believe, is good for you, but I believe it's a lot better for you if you can succeed after it and not just have adversity, adversity, adversity."

Ginyard indicated on Friday that it would be unfair for the media to suggest that this season hasn't gone as he had hoped, saying that he never had a vision in his head about how things would unfold.

"I think there's no question that it's not what everybody else wanted it to be, but it is what it is," he said.

In this pressure cooker that doubles as a quaint college town, high expectations often lead to overreactions. But the plus side is that hope is never far away from the town limits of Chapel Hill.

No one is worried that Williams has forgotten how to coach. Freshmen guards Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland are finally showing signs of adapting to college ball. And few, if any, have lost faith that Ginyard possesses the ability to be a tremendous leader for this ball club.

Talent has a way of showing itself, and leadership operates in a similar vein.

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