“I expect Marcus Paige to be there,” Williams said when asked about the position battle. “Part of it is that Dexter is somewhat limited in what we’re going to do with him in practice. And, Dexter has never been a point guard. That has something to do with it, too.”
Strickland tore the ACL in his right knee in a game at Virginia Tech on Jan. 19. He was fully cleared to play on Aug. 27, but acknowledged on Wednesday that he hasn’t returned to full health.
“I’m not 100 percent yet,” Strickland said. “I’m probably like 96 percent, but it’s coming along good. I’m still doing rehab each and every day. It’s still a process getting back, but I’m ready to go.”
Paige (6-0, 157 pounds) earned McDonald’s All-America honors after averaging 28.1 points per game at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa. The freshman was limited in the spring after suffering a stress fracture in his left foot.
“Marcus Paige has a chance to be really good,” Williams said. “He’s a little rascal… but he does know how to play and he has savvy and toughness. I’m really counting on him to be good.”
Strickland spoke with reporters prior to Williams’s press conference in the media room.
“That’s up to Coach,” Strickland replied when asked if he would be the starting point guard. “Personally, I want to play point guard. I want to be the one guard, but I think I’ll be interchangeable with the two guard. We’ll just have to see what Coach wants.”
Several Tar Heels reportedly compared Paige to Kendall Marshall. While downplaying the comparison by pointing to Marshall’s vast assist records, Williams admitted that there were similarities beyond both point guards being left handed.
“[Paige] has savvy,” Williams said. “He’s a better athlete. He doesn’t pitch ahead as well as Kendall does. He slides his feet better defensively. May shoot it better. [He can] penetrate and find people at the last instant like Kendall did. I don’t know that anybody does that.”
Junior wing Reggie Bullock believes Paige is ready for the intense pressure that comes along with being North Carolina's starting point guard.
“He’s a leader for our team already and he hasn’t even played a game,” Bullock said. “I don’t think he actually knows that he’s a leader, but at the point guard position, he’s the one that’s going to be bringing the ball down the court. He’s the one that’s going to be getting us in our sets; he’s the one that’s going to be calling the plays…
“I know that he’s ready to step up to the challenge and actually lead this team. I’m ready to see how he’s going to lead it.”
If Paige does start UNC’s opener against Gardner-Webb on Nov. 9, he would be the first Tar Heel freshman to start a season at point guard since Bobby Frasor in 2005-06.