THM: Ginyard's Story About More Than Basketball
Feb. 5, 2007
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The following story originally ran in the February 2007 issue of the magazine.
By Adam Lucas
"I love Marcus."
These words spill out before you can even finish your question. You try again.
"I'm working on a story on Mar..."
"Love him. Do you understand? Love him."
This is not how interviews are supposed to be conducted. It is supposed to work like this: you ask the questions, the interviewee answers them. But only after letting you finish.
Trish Stoskus is not the average interviewee. She hears the key words--"Marcus Ginyard" and "Carolina Basketball"--and she begins to bubble.
"I can't say enough about what a fabulous human being he is," she says. "He is a good person. That's the bottom line. He's just a good person."
Stoskus does not know Ginyard's shooting percentage. She is unaware of his defensive prowess. She has never even been inside the Smith Center. This is a person who knows Marcus Ginyard? Knows him better than his teammates or his coaches or any of the fans who wear replica number-1 jerseys to games?
Yes, she knows him. She must. Knowing Marcus Ginyard is one of the very best ways Trish Stoskus has left to stay close to her daughter.
Tell me about your tattoos.
This is what you say to a college-age basketball prodigy these days. In the old days--say, pre-internet--you asked about influences or mentors. Now the answers to those questions are usually inked somewhere on a player's body. It used to be that having a tattoo made a player unique. Now it's only remarkable when a player is ink-free. Religion is a popular tattoo subject. So are relatives.
It's a reasonable question, then. And on this day, Marcus Ginyard has just been to the tattoo parlor two days earlier, so it's a timely query.
He turns over his right hand, palm up. There are four words inscribed in the flesh of his wrist: "Be true to you."
"My godmother says this every time I talk to her," Ginyard says. "My mom and I have been talking a lot lately and have been having some deeper conversations. We've talked about what it means to be true to yourself. You have to be yourself and allow others to love you. You have to accept the flaws you have and not cover them up. I like being able to see that reminder every day--every time I pick up a pencil or get something to eat."
This is your first sign that Marcus Ginyard is a little different. No daggers or dollar signs or animals on his first tattoo. Just a phrase that sounds like something you could find in a fortune cookie.
In the college basketball world, different often prompts some derision. It's not unusual for Ginyard to be having a conversation with one of his teammates, and they end the encounter with a subtle needle: "Oh Marcus, just be true to you." It's said with an exaggerated flourish and a small dose of sarcasm.
It's not that Ginyard didn't know before he got the tattoo that it might be the subject of some skepticism from his teammates. It's that he didn't particularly care.
"He's a very genuine person," says Margo Miles, a friend from Bishop O'Connell High. "He's not big-headed at all, not like you would think a person in his position could be. What you see is what you get, and he can basically get along with anyone."
Ginyard, it seems, has something in common with everyone. He can talk sports with athletes. Talk philosophy with intellectuals. Chat about fashion with females and video games with males.
Which brings us to his music. How, exactly, do you describe his music?
"It is bizarre," says his older brother, Ronald Ginyard Jr. "He listens to absolutely everything. I've never in my life known anyone who you can ride in the car with, and no matter what station you pick he can sing every song that comes on the radio."
His iPod is the source of constant amazement in the Carolina locker room. Danny Green can't believe Ginyard listens to country. Tyler Hansbrough can't believe Ginyard listens to rap. Bobby Frasor can't believe Ginyard listens to boy bands.
He listens to everything. He listens to songs you know by heart and songs you've never heard before. Some of the songs on his iPod even he has never heard before; if he hears a song he likes, he doesn't just download that song. He downloads the entire CD.
The musical diversity began in middle school, when he attended The Potomac School, a private school in McLean, Virginia. It's the kind of school that holds alumni events at the Yale Club and fields a competitive squash team. It's the kind of school where the 8th grade French class goes on a field trip...to France. It was a one-hour drive each way from the Ginyard home in Woodbridge, but that didn't matter to Annise Ginyard, who did extensive research on Washington-area private schools for her children.
"I loved the incredible sense of togetherness," she says. "When they had parties, they told parents to invite the entire class. From the very beginning, everyone was treated the same. When they did a play, everyone had a part. I thought it would help build a stronger person for Marcus to know that everyone was important in the world."
Right now you're picturing the Ginyards sitting around the house humming happy songs, aren't you? If they say things like "incredible sense of togetherness" and "everyone was important in the world," it must be one of those families. You know the type. Not the kind to foster an ultra-competitive floor-scraping defensive demon.
And it's true, that was the atmosphere in the Ginyard house. But so was this:
"I was about seven or eight years old and I had just played in a summer league game," Marcus says. "I had a terrible game. We're driving home and it's blazing hot and my mom pulls off at this water park near our house. There was a basketball court beside the water park. It was one of those courts with the blacktop and the chain nets. I was like, `What is she doing?' She made me stay out there and shoot for 30 minutes. Any time she saw me slipping up, she was the first one to grab me and point me in the right direction."
His mother just laughs.
"Some things build up over time," she says. "I hadn't felt like he was giving his best effort, and I wanted him to know that he needed to give his best effort all the time. He wasn't getting it, so I was looking for a way to make him get it. It wasn't like it was totally dark outside. I let him use the headlights on my car so he could see to shoot."
Now seems like a good time to mention that Annise Ginyard played in the Marine Corps basketball league until an injury ended her hoops career. Ronald Ginyard Sr. was a 21-year Marine who was in the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Details were important in the Ginyard household.
But so was love, which explains the tattoo on Marcus Ginyard's left wrist: "It's all love."
In high school, Ginyard had a core group of friends who did everything together. They were the typical alpha males, athletically inclined and popular with their classmates. When one of them would bum a ride home from Ginyard, they'd usually part company this way:
"Thanks for the ride, Marcus."
"It's all love."
That was his saying. He could apply it to almost any situation. And this winter, he had it applied to his wrist.
"The more people can realize that love makes the world a better place, the happier everyone will be," Ginyard says. "It's just a little reminder. I'm not going to lie, when I got my first tattoo I got laughed at. A lot of people don't feel the same way I do. But I like having these two things facing me. I like being able to look at them and think about them."
He has another tattoo, but you've probably never seen it. Nobody laughs at this one.
Paige Johnson and Marcus Ginyard were not dating. They never dated. Had no plans to date.
"We all thought they would eventually end up together," Miles says. "But they always said they had too good a friendship to risk dating."
"Marcus was my daughter's best friend," says Trish Stoskus, Johnson's mother. "They never dated, and we would ask her about it. We'd ask if she was sure Marcus wasn't the guy for her. And she'd just say that they were best friends, and that was that."
They were classmates at O'Connell, where Ginyard was the rare basketball star who also enjoyed being part of the normal student body. Before she received her driver's license, Paige would ask her mother to drive her to basketball games. Invariably, Paige's phone would chirp in the car on the way to the game. It was Marcus--"Are you here yet?" he'd ask.
They graduated together and chose colleges 110 miles apart--Marcus to Carolina, Paige to East Carolina. Paige subscribed to an extended cable package so she could watch as many Tar Heel games as possible. Early in the season, she made a trip to Chapel Hill to attend a game.
"That was probably the best day she ever had," her mom says. "He treated her like a queen. Someone made the comment that she had him so high up on a pedestal, and one of her friends said, `Yeah, just like the one he has her on.'"
By now you've noticed, haven't you? You've noticed that everyone else is speaking for Paige Johnson. This is not the way to speak about an 18-year-old. All the words about her are in the past tense.
Right now, that's all anyone has.
It was just before midnight on Dec. 1, 2005, and Paige Johnson was walking across East Fourth Street in Greenville, Greenville, N.C. What happened next is the subject of ongoing litigation, but these facts are clear: Johnson was hit by a car. The impact threw her to the curb. After being transported to the hospital, she complained of head pain. She also had pain in her leg. Thirty hours later, she was brain dead, kept alive by a ventilator so her organs could be removed for donation just after midnight on Dec. 3.
Less than 12 hours later, Carolina was scheduled to play at Kentucky.
Her daughter was dead and her world was spinning. And that morning, all Trish Stoskus could think was this:
There's no way I can call Marcus.
"I chickened out," she says. "I just couldn't do it."
Margo Miles made the call instead.
"I got the call as I was putting on my suit to go to the bus," Ginyard says. "Margo had called at 8:53, but I missed that call. I got the second one. It was rough. I couldn't get myself together."
"Hey, play for her," he said.
Ginyard wrapped his wrists in tape and then added Paige's name to the tape. He still has that tape in his locker, right next to the picture of them together.
With 19 seconds left, Carolina held a 78-73 lead over the Wildcats in what looked like a defining game for the young Tar Heels. Ginyard was fouled and went to the free throw line for two potentially game-clinching shots.
Twenty thousand Kentucky fans were screaming, a nationwide audience was watching, and Ginyard's mind was in a Greenville hospital room. This doesn't happen to 18-year-olds. They don't lose their best friend and then go on television in front of millions.
Williams called his freshman over to the Carolina bench.
"Knock them in and make her proud," his coach said.
Ginyard wiped away the sweat and kissed the tape that bore his best friend's name.
First shot: swish.
Second shot: swish.
This is where the story could end, right there with the ball sweeping through the net and the hostile crowd going silent. But Ginyard didn't want it to end there. Paige's brother, Dylan, is 13 years old. 13-year-olds don't talk about pain or their feelings or death. They don't talk about much of anything.
Dylan talks about one thing. Well, two things: Marcus Ginyard and Carolina basketball.
"My son is obsessed with Marcus," Stoskus says. "He latched onto Marcus because Marcus is his connection to Paige and because Marcus is kind to him. He gets down to Dylan's level and talks to him, which you just don't find in a 19-year-old kid."
This fall, Dylan was in search of some basketball shoes. Not just any basketball shoes. The shoes Ginyard wears when he takes the court for the Tar Heels. He'd go to shoe stores in the mall with his mother, take a quick survey of the shoe racks, and then walk out, frustrated.
"They don't have them," he said. "Let's go."
Almost every mall in Virginia was searched with no success. And one day, a box arrived from Chapel Hill. Inside Dylan found a pair of Ginyard's shoes in his size.
He shouldn't have been surprised. The flow of Carolina basketball paraphernalia from Chapel Hill to Ashburn, Va., has been steady. A team-signed basketball. A sweatshirt. A pair of game shorts.
The stuff is nice. The stuff gets worn every day or framed in Dylan's room. He can show it to his friends.
What's nicer, though, are the calls and the emails and the text messages. Ginyard has made a habit of calling Dylan just to check in. You know, the way friends do. They talk about the most recent game or upcoming opponents or maybe even girls. This summer, when Ginyard returned home, he talked to Dylan about succeeding in school and the importance of grades.
A few weeks later, Dylan made the following announcement as he was going to his room to study: "Marcus never made a C in high school. So I don't want to make a C, either."
"He has been incredible to my son," Stoskus says. "If I want my son to idolize someone, it's Marcus. He checks on us, and he doesn't have to do that. But he wants to, because he's a good person."
"It's important to me because Dylan is missing a big part of his life now," Ginyard says. "Paige was special enough to me that I want to make sure Dylan is OK and that he's happy. Being close with me and communicating with me makes him feel better, and I'm always looking to make his life better."
Stoskus was sitting by the pool one day when her cell phone chirped, announcing a new text message.
It was a photo. She recognized it immediately. It was a tattoo, the letter "P" with wings. There were no words attached to the message, but Stoskus knew immediately who it was from.
"I knew it was Marcus," she said. "That's the kind of person he is. I mean, he had my daughter tattooed on his back."
"Now do you see why I love him?"
Adam Lucas's third book on Carolina basketball, The Best Game Ever, chronicles the 1957 national championship season and is available now. His previous books include Going Home Again, focusing on Roy Williams's return to Carolina, and Led By Their Dreams, a collaboration with Steve Kirschner and Matt Bowers on the 2005 championship team.