Known as a defensive stopper in his time as a Tar Heel, Marcus Ginyard won a National Championship at North Carolina in 2009. Since, basketball has taken him to Germany, Israel, Poland and Ukraine. Now 27, he’s back in the United States, playing just up the road for the Westchester Knicks. This is his story.
As I embark on my fifth season as a professional baller, I can already be labeled as a journeyman of sorts. I haven’t bounced from team to team in the NBA, with which most people would associate the term, but rather from country to country across the globe.
After graduating from North Carolina and failing to make the Summer League roster for the Charlotte Bobcats, I journeyed across the Atlantic to begin my career in Bayreuth, Germany. I played for BBC Bayreuth, in their first year in the top division since the late ’80s. It was a struggle for our team on the court, as we fought tirelessly just to remain in the top 16 of 18 in the league so we would not be relegated to the second division. It was an incredible chance to learn, experiencing a full season of professional basketball for the first time. I was able to engage in German culture to a point that I could never imagine. I took on German as a third language and traveled the country in my spare time. It wasn’t the professional basketball I dreamed of, but what I experienced still remains invaluable.
The following year I played in Israel, in the second division, due to the poor market in Europe as a result of the NBA lockout. Jobs were scarce, and I took a gamble playing at a lower level. I was motivated, and hungry to get back into a top league. That energy fueled my average of 21 ppg and 7 rpg. I still allowed my curiosity for new things guide me, making multiple trips to float in the Dead Sea, exploring Jerusalem, spending Christmas Eve in Bethlehem and eating more falafel and hummus than I care to admit. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the warmth of the people there. Now dear friends, a teammate and his family regularly invited me into their home for Shabbat dinners.
My third year landed me back in a top division, in Włocławek, Poland. Don’t worry, I had never heard of Włocławek either. It was another eye-opening experience, continuing to learn about the professional side of basketball and how to survive on my own in a foreign country. I helped lead my team to the Polish League semi-finals, which for us was still a respectable accomplishment.
The summer after Poland there were still no concrete leads on a path for me to the NBA, so I continued to focus on playing at the highest level in Europe. I was fortunate enough to land a deal with BC Azovmash Mariupol, a well-known and respected club in Ukraine. They would play in a strong Ukrainian League as well as an extremely talented International league, the VTB League. I began the year sidelined with two fractured bones in my right hand, the aftermath of a hard foul during training camp in Italy. Luckily for me, it was early in the season and I was able to return with plenty of time to make an impact. I invited my skills trainer to Ukraine in the weeks leading to my return to ensure I was in the best shape and could hit the ground running. I scored a team-high 24 points in my first game back against Triumph, a tough Russian club that was a 2014 EuroChallenge Finalist. From then on, I continued to perform, averaging roughly 15 points and four rebounds in both the Ukrainian and VTB League.
What made that particular season even more chaotic than usual was the looming conflict within Ukraine. Tensions in Ukraine began to increase shortly after my arrival in Mariupol, and by February, things had escalated beyond the proverbial “point of no return.” I was forced to terminate my contract with Azovmash and leave the country for fear of my personal safety. I was extremely disappointed to leave in the midst of what I considered my best season yet. I returned to Poland to play for the reigning champions for the remaining two months of the season, and we would go on to lose in Game 6 of the finals. For me, it was a very meek period in my career. I was never able to get into a rhythm, and subsequently never performed to my potential.
I spent this past summer between home in DC and Chapel Hill, focusing on getting better every day, mainly shooting and working on my handle. Over the course of the summer, I became extremely passionate about practicing yoga, incorporating it into my schedule 2-3 times a week. The added emphasis on my strength and flexibility I think will go a long way in the preservation of my body.
After these stops around the world, I never thought the next in line would be White Plains, New York. I imagined I would land in Italy, Spain, or heck, maybe even Russia. But I’m happy that I got that phone call from Allan Houston, Assistant GM of the New York Knicks and GM of their affiliate Westchester Knicks, and here’s why—I allowed a few years overseas to affect the most powerful tool I have, my mind. I temporarily lost sight of my vision. Playing in the NBA was still a dream of mine, but I didn’t really feel it. I settled, telling myself that I could still be a great player, but just focusing on the European market.
What that phone call did for me was provide a spark, that in one month, has created a fire that now burns hotter than ever. I was honored to receive a call from Houston, a player I can vividly remember watching play during his time with Knicks. This opportunity that I have with the Westchester Knicks has brought me to the doorstep of the NBA, even without my unwavering belief, which I think is necessary to break through this threshold. But I’m also a firm believer that the universe will always provide us with the experience that is most needed for our evolution. I am here for a reason. I believe that with a real glimpse of my goal in sight I can now channel the energy deep inside me and focus on my dream to play in the NBA. There’s one thing I know for sure: determination cannot be stopped.
Marcus Ginyard is a professional basketball player from the University of North Carolina and a writer. For more from him, check out marcusginyard.com and follow him on Twitter @mg1nyard. Image: Jennifer Pottheiser/NBAE via Getty Images.