Paige Coming Back for More

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While various NBA decisions have been announced by press conferences or releases this spring, Marcus Paige announced his return indirectly with a tweet last month referencing offseason improvement and the potential for a special junior season.

Fourteen minutes after that tweet, which was retweeted 2,978 times, Paige responded to incoming Tar Heel Theo Pinson on the social media tool by saying that he "never even thought of leaving."

Paige's father, Ellis, discussed his son's decision to return in 2014-15 in a recent interview with InsideCarolina.com.

"He wants to be a NBA player one day, but he just doesn't want to be drafted," the elder Paige said. "He wants to be in the NBA and make a career out of it because he feels like he can do any system and he has the ability to just fit in with any group."

Paige's return cements the rising junior guard as a leading candidate for preseason ACC Player of the Year following a first-team All-ACC sophomore campaign in which he led UNC with 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game.

More important than his averages, however, was his ability to elevate his game in crunch time. Paige scored in double digits after halftime 20 times last season after managing single digits in the first half.

The Marion, Iowa native's impact for last season's team was evident at the team banquet earlier this month as he won nine awards, ranging from MVP to team co-captain to best defensive player to academic standout.

Paige's rapid ascension is even more remarkable when you consider the responsibility was forced into his hands by unforeseen complications. Paige expected to play his first year at UNC behind point guard Kendall Marshall, who departed for the NBA unexpectedly following his sophomore season.

Paige stepped into the starting role at point guard as a true freshman and struggled early both in adjusting to Roy Williams's system and to finding his shot at the college level. He shot 32.0 percent from the floor through his first 23 games before finding his footing to shoot 42.4 percent (43.5 percent from 3) over the last month of his rookie season.

That final stretch provided a foundation for Paige to build his confidence and game upon, although another pair of unexpected developments delivered more distractions as the 2013-14 season arrived. Last spring, Reggie Bullock left UNC a year early to enter the NBA Draft, removing a key perimeter scoring threat from the roster. Then came the P.J. Hairston fiasco, which ultimately resulted in the sharpshooter's dismissal from the program.

UNC's starting point guard all of a sudden became its primary scoring threat from the perimeter.

Paige thrived despite the difficult adjustment involved with finding your teammates shots while also finding your own. The rising junior came to UNC to be a point guard, but understands and has embraced the duality of his role, according to his father.

"We're talking about two different Marcus's – we're talking about the point guard Marcus, who loves being a point guard, and we're talking about the shooting Marcus, who we so desperately need because of our lack of wing shooting," Paige said.

Despite his small stature (6-1, 175), Paige developed into arguably UNC's top defensive player by limiting penetration and using his quickness to disrupt looks.

"His skill set allowed him to adjust to defend bigger guys and try to stay in front of them and then also being able to utilize screens against the big guys," Paige said.

Paige's father believes the primary emphasis this offseason for his son revolves around two things that don't necessarily involve a ball and a basket. The first is a continued dedication to strength and conditioning to allow S&C coach Jonas Sahratian to fill out Paige's slim frame, while the second is improving his leadership skills.

That's not to say that Paige is content with his game, however.

"I will say this – he is not satisfied with his shooting percentage," the elder Paige said. "I know he will be a much more selective and higher percentage shooter… I believe he'll shoot a higher percentage from 3-point and 2-point [range] than he did this year."

Paige shot 44.0 percent last season, including 38.9 percent from 3-point range. He also led the ACC with an 87.7 mark from the free throw line.

Most importantly, there seems to be a genuine connection between player and coach.

"I believe that he and Coach are really in tune," Paige said. "I think he knows what Roy wants, I think he knows how to do it and I think he's in tune with every single player on the team."

As for Paige's tweet about not even thinking about jumping early to the NBA this spring, his father backed up that statement.

"I think he's one of those guys – he fell short, he wants to come back and win," Paige said. "He wants the Final Four and a championship. I know he does."

 

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