North Carolina

Former NC basketball stars take their games overseas

Former NC state guard Trevor Lacey in 2015.
Former NC state guard Trevor Lacey in 2015. News & Observer file photo

Marcus Ginyard got to see plenty of the country as a basketball player at North Carolina, with some of his best games coming on the road at Virginia, Clemson and Ohio State.

But that was hardly a precursor for the pro career of Ginyard, 29, who was medical redshirt when the Tar Heels won the NCAA national title in 2009.

Since the 6-foot-5 swingman ended his career at Chapel Hill the following year, Ginyard has played professionally in Germany, Israel, Poland, Ukraine and this past season, France.

“The biggest adjustment on the court is the style of play,” according to Ginyard, who came to UNC from Bishop O’Connell High in Arlington, Va. “The European game has a very different flow than what I was used to at UNC. Off the court, you’re in a foreign country, probably don’t speak the language, and have no family or friends around for support. It’s a big adjustment to figure out how to get by, truly on your own.”

Nearly every country in Europe and the Middle East has a pro basketball league. But the rules and level of play can vary, with several clubs in some countries such as Hungary unable to afford more than two Americans while other countries have at least five Americans per club.

Most European leagues play by FIBA rules, which allows a player to touch the ball in the cylinder. And referees will quickly call traveling if a player does not clearly put the ball on the floor before picking up their pivot foot.

“A lot of people don’t realize how many different levels of basketball there are in Europe. I’ve seen many players from the ACC out here in Europe on all different levels. Playing in the ACC will prepare you to compete at any level, Europe or in the USA,” noted Ginyard, who averaged 9.6 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.7 assists this season for the Nates club in France.

Ginyard is one of dozens of players from UNC, North Carolina State and Duke who played pro hoops overseas this past season.

Among them is Trevor Lacey, a former standout for the Wolfpack who left Raleigh early for the pro ranks. Instead of the NBA he spent this season in the top league in Italy (Seria A) for Pesaro, whose season come to an end in May. Lacey, 24, who could not be reached for comment, averaged 14.6 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists.

North Carolina A&T graduate Richaud Pack, a guard, spent this past season playing in Cyprus – an island country of less than two million people in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Syria and Turkey.

Pack, who played mostly shooting guard, headed to Cyprus in September and returned in April after playing in a league that allows five foreigners per team. He averaged 34.3 minutes and 16.8 points per game in Cyprus.

“Most leagues (in Europe) allow only two or three foreigners,” said Pack, who ended his career at the University of Maryland. “It is a really competitive league. It is a different game; it is hard (to compare) to college basketball. The shot clock is different, the style of play is different. The players that make it overseas are your best players from (top) schools.”

Another former Maryland player with North Carolina ties – Word of God product Dez Wells of Raleigh – played in the D-League this past season. He averaged nearly 13 points per game in 25 contests for the Oklahoma City Blue. It was the first pro season for Wells, who transferred to Maryland from Xavier.

Former NC State player Cam Bennerman, 32, who ended his career with the Pack in 2005-06, has played in Italy, Spain, Poland, Turkey, Australia and Finland.

During part of that time Bennerman, who is from Greensboro, has kept a blog to share his experiences. It is not rare for foreign players to get paid late overseas or to find certain promises made by the club, such as with living arrangements, that don’t come to fruition. The ability to adapt and stay positive goes a long way for Americans who want to succeed overseas.

“Last season I was in Finland at the time playing some of the best basketball of my career and suffered a plantar fascia tear in my foot. I had to sit out a month or two, the team found a replacement and we parted ways,” Bennerman wrote earlier this year.

I would like to play pro ball as long as my body and mind can handle it.

Former UNC basketball player Marcus Ginyard

Among the former Duke standouts who played overseas this season was Daniel Ewing, who played in basketball-crazed Lithuania.

Other former Tar Heels who played overseas this season were Justin Knox, who averaged 15 points per game for a team in Turkey; and Durham’s David Noel (Southern High), a second-round pick of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2006, who played in Orleans, France, after earlier stops in Venezuela, the Philippines, Slovakia and Argentina, according to eurobasket.com.

Ginyard is able to get back to North Carolina each summer and plans to play pro ball again in 2016-17.

“I would like to play pro ball as long as my body and mind can handle it. There are a lot of things I have yet to accomplish that I have to look forward to in my pro career,” he noted.

Editor’s note: David Driver is a Virginia native who lived in Hungary for three years and filed stories from eight different European countries on American basketball players overseas. He has written about European basketball for more than 10 years and can be reached at www.davidsdriver.com.

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