The inner-ear problem that has put Tyler Hansbrough's NBA career on hold for the moment is believed to be some kind of infection, although merely looking at the state of the program he left behind would be enough to make anyone dizzy.
Hansbrough departed Chapel Hill the emperor of a proud dynasty, a conquering hero. He returns today to find that kingdom in shambles, the defending champion Tar Heels in disarray.
"I don't really look at it like that," Hansbrough said Tuesday. "We've got some new guys and they've lost a couple games, but I think we're about to turn it around hopefully. We'll see what happens."
Tonight should be a night for celebrating Hansbrough's career as his No. 50 jersey is retired at the Smith Center as North Carolina hosts Duke. Instead, it may be the Tar Heels' last chance to turn around a season gone awry.
It's difficult to reconcile the two.
"It'll be fantastic," North Carolina coach Roy Williams said of the halftime ceremony. "It'd be a lot more fantastic if we were playing well, there's no question about that."
In a way, it is Hansbrough's very legacy that has helped make this season so difficult for the Tar Heels - specifically, his work as a freshman, when he came in to pick up where a national title team left off and help the Tar Heels finish second in the ACC in 2006.
Unrealistic as it may have been, similar overachievement was expected from this group, which instead has been stymied by the most basic of growing pains. Those struggles certainly put a new perspective on what the Tar Heels accomplished in 2005-06 under similar circumstances, and by extension Hansbrough.
It's just one reason why Hansbrough tonight will become the eighth UNC player to have his jersey retired, to his considerable excitement.
"Everybody who wore those jerseys, I watched them all and I have a great deal of respect for them," Hansbrough said. "For me to be in that category is something I take pride in."
Beyond all his statistical benchmarks, beyond the national title that concluded his UNC career, Hansbrough's most unexpected contribution may have come in his first season. Williams has never been shy in expressing his admiration for David Noel's leadership that year, but Hansbrough gave that team a bedrock foundation of consistency the current team lacks.
He was a plug-and-play impact player who stepped onto the college floor like he had been playing in the Smith Center for years, filling the void left by four first-round NBA draft picks.
"We had the national championship in 2005, so he didn't have to legitimize our program again or anything like that, but he set a standard for four years for everybody that stepped out on the court," Williams said. "And even some of his teammates - no, all of his teammates, at some time - were in awe of what he did."
It's easy to see now that all the problems everyone could see the Heels might have this season - perimeter defense, ballhandling, outside shooting, inexperience - were in fact crippling, even if no one could see the full picture before.
If that's unfair, if too much was expected of these Tar Heels, it's only because Hansbrough so severely over achieved under similar circumstances.
"We had a pretty good freshman year," Hansbrough said. "I'm not trying to compare our class to their class. It's totally different."
That championship banner at the end of Hansbrough's four years at North Carolina may have been his crowning achievement, but this season has cast new light on just how impressive the beginning was.