Senior Moments

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Amidst the rubble of the 2009-10 season, North Carolina will brush away those immediate troubles on Tuesday to celebrate two Tar Heels that have helped cement the program's status as a member of college basketball's elite.



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There are more than 300 Division I basketball programs in the country, and only 65 of those squads earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament in March. Even fewer make any audible noise in the Big Dance and less than a handful stand on the same sacred ground as the North Carolina Tar Heels.

So while most Senior Day ceremonies occur during losing seasons where conference tournaments represent the last chance at glory, that is rarely the case in Chapel Hill. The downside of that ridiculous success is that when darkness falls on this college town, fans are all too willing to throw out that anomaly of a season with the bath water.

Marcus Ginyard and Deon Thompson will take the Smith Center floor for the last time on Tuesday night against Miami, but the senior duo has spent most of the season under fire by individuals desperately seeking a scapegoat for UNC's 15-14 (4-10 ACC) record.

The David Noel tag was stapled to Ginyard's back mere moments after North Carolina won its fifth NCAA Championship in Detroit last April, and it wasn't long after that Thompson was saddled with the unenviable task of trying to replace Tyler Hansbrough's four-year reign as the Tar Heels' go-to scorer in the paint.

Neither played out as well as a well-written fictional version might have suggested. Serious issues on the perimeter, injuries and a late-blooming freshman class contributed to UNC's season-long struggles.

And while Ginyard insists that he had no expectations entering his fifth year wearing a Tar Heel uniform, he admits that the team's failure to launch hit him hard.

"It definitely hasn't gone the way that I wanted it and really, first and foremost, it's because the team hasn't done as well," Ginyard said on Monday. "I've really never been too into how things are going outside of the team. I just feel like everything else will fall into place if your team is doing well."

It wasn't long after the College of Charleston loss set ablaze the Tar Heel fan base that the roster entered a fragile, dark state of mind – Ginyard and Thompson included. In the coming weeks, trouble and disappointment proved that they were in Chapel Hill to stay for the remainder of the seniors' careers.

But victory never tastes quite as sweet without having endured difficult times. The 2002 recruiting class delivered the story book ending, beginning their tenure at UNC with the disastrous 8-20 campaign and capping it off with the 2005 national championship.

Unfortunately, Ginyard and Thompson have nearly completed that journey as a cracked mirror-image, but the lessons are exactly the same. It's important to understand that Tuesday's celebration marks the end of a career, not the end of a season.

There will be plenty of time for dialogue about the multitude of things that went wrong in 2009-10, but there is only one opportunity to applaud the careers of two Tar Heels that have been instrumental in this program's immense success over the past five years.

Ask Ginyard about his fondest memory and he'll point to the 2006 Senior Night victory over J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams at Cameron Indoor. Ask Thompson about his favorite play and he'll tell you that it's the and-one basket early in the first half of North Carolina's rout over Michigan State in last April's national championship game.

As tough as this season has been, the ability to look at the big picture is one thing that everyone involved should learn from this situation.

"I didn't expect us to lose as many games as we've lost or for me to play the way that I've played, but I can always look back over the whole of my career and just how my time was spent here and I can be happy about that," Thompson said.

Ginyard dismisses the notion that ending his career on a less-than-desirable note tarnishes his legacy at North Carolina.

"I think a lot of people at first would feel that way because of the last year of your career being the way it was, but then when you really take time to think about all of the things that you've gone through, all of the things that you've accomplished, I don't think that you could rationally sit there and be really disappointed with yourself to see the things that we've done over the past five years," Ginyard said.

How's this for a pair of career achievements – Ginyard has been around for 175 North Carolina ball games, while Thompson will break Danny Green's record for most games played (146) on Saturday in Durham. You may as well add in three regular season ACC titles, two ACC Tournament titles, two Final Fours and one national championship for good measure.

Combine those highlights with the perseverance exhibited during the current season, and it's easy to understand why the underclassmen are determined to give Thompson and Ginyard one last home victory.

"It's very important [to get a win], because we owe it to them," freshman forward John Henson said. "Make them go out on a good note. We're going to play as hard as we can and I'm going to try to play the best game I've ever played for them and hopefully we'll come out with a win."

Ginyard indicated that he hasn't allowed himself to reflect on his career quite yet, but Thompson likely summed it up for both of them when he was asked about his time at North Carolina. The Torrance, Calif. native paused for a moment before looking up to the banners hanging in the rafters at the Smith Center.

"Every day I walk in here I realize what I'm a part of," Thompson said. "I'll always be a part of Carolina history."

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