On Tuesday, the Charlotte Hornets announced they had signed former UNC Guard Marcus Paige to a two-way contract, meaning he will play in both the G-League for the Greensboro Swarm and in the NBA for the Hornets.
This may not seem like a big deal to most, but for North Carolina fans, this is fantastic news.
Not only is Paige getting another chance in the NBA, he will be doing it in the state of North Carolina and in the city that is as close to Chapel Hill as the NBA gets. Tar Heel fans are thrilled, to say the least.
I am beyond happy that the Hornets signed Marcus. Hell yes.— UNC Humor (@UNC_Humor) August 1, 2017
Congrats to @marcuspaige5! Will look great in teal and purple.— Bryan Ives (@awaytoworthy) August 1, 2017
The @hornets signed Marcus Paige and now my life is complete.— Neil Mehta (@nmehta98) August 1, 2017
UNC fans would not have had this type of reaction if the news was about just any other player. Paige is one of the all-time fan favorites to wear Carolina blue, and for good reason.
There was just something different about Paige’s career at North Carolina, from the spirit he played with on the court to the way he handled himself off it. Most importantly, he understood what it meant to be a Tar Heel. This article that Paige wrote for the Players Tribune in April is just one example.
Marcus Paige was the epitome of a student-athlete. He won the Skip Prosser Award – given by the ACC to the top scholar in men’s basketball his Junior and Senior Season. He was also named second team academic All-American both his sophomore and junior season.
As a Senior, he made the First Team, becoming only the third ACC men’s basketball player to be honored as an academic All-American three times. This distinction was obviously very important to Paige.
“I was really excited (to find out) because the last two years I’ve been a second-team All-America and I really wanted to get on that first team,” Paige said. “To hear I finally got bumped up to first team my last year is pretty exciting. It was a goal the first time I made second team. I always wanted to be first team.
“Especially this year, closing out my career, I thought that was an appropriate goal and to reach it is pretty cool.”
“I know my parents are going to be super proud,” Paige said. “That will probably be their most satisfying accomplishment that I’ve had since I’ve been in school because they understand how important it is. I’m glad I could do it for myself and especially do it for them.”
Somewhere, Dean Smith is smiling.
Marcus Paige was just as special on the court. At the start of his freshman year, Paige had some big shoes to fill. Star point guard Kendall Marshall was drafted by the Phoenix Suns in June, leaving Paige, a true freshman, to start.
He became just the 8th Point Guard to start his very first game in North Carolina history, joining the likes of North Carolina greats Ed Coda, Raymond Felton, and Phil Ford.
Paige started to come on during ACC play, and established himself as one of the team’s best players. He averaged 10.4 points per game over his last 12 games and earned All-ACC freshman team recognition.
His sophomore season was truly one to remember. Paige averaged 17.5 PPG and 4.2 APG on his way to being named a second team All-American. While his entire season was outstanding, perhaps his most memorable performance was a road win against NC State. Paige scored 35 points – 31 of them coming in the second half and in Overtime – and made the game winning layup with seconds to go.
In his junior season, Paige was Carolina’s leading scorer at 14.1 PPG and was the recipient of the Dean Smith MVP award for the second straight season. This was Paige’s best shooting season, as he lead the ACC in 3 pointers and was one make shy of the UNC single-season 3 point record set by Shammond Williams in 1997.
He also earned all-ACC honors for the second straight season and was the Tar Heels leader and best player throughout the year.
Before his senior year, Paige was named preseason ACC Player of the Year. These high expectations were hampered, however, when Paige fractured the third metacarpal on his right hand on November 3rd of 2015. This caused him to miss the first six games of the season.
Despite the injury, Paige played terrific in his first game back against the Maryland Terrapins, scoring 20 points and five assists in a huge win.
However, Paige was unable to keep the momentum, and went into a shooting slump for the rest of the regular season. He was still solid, averaging 12.6 PPG, but wasn’t himself.
As the end of the regular season was nearing, it became time for his final game in the Smith Center. As is tradition at UNC, he gave a Senior day speech. It will go down as one of the most memorable in Tar Heel history.
Fortunately for Carolina, Paige was able to free himself of the shooting slump in time for the ACC Tournament, as the Tar Heels captured their 19th tournament championship.
Paige and the Tar Heels went on to roll through their first five opponents of the 2016 NCAA Tournament, with the closest margin of victory being 14 points.
Carolina went into the national championship riding high, and Paige was playing his best basketball of the season.
In one of the most intense games in college basketball history, Paige was outstanding. He lead the Tar Heels with 21 points, cashed in 6 assists, and kept them in the game late with incredibly clutch play.
The off balance, double-clutch three pointer that he hit with just seconds to go – a shot that tied the game – is one of the greatest shots in the history of basketball.
Fans all over the world were both amazed and stunned but, unfortunately, the majority of them will not remember the greatness of this play, solely because of what happened next.
While Kris Jenkins’ shot was remarkable in its own right, delivering Villanova its first National Title since 1985 at the buzzer, it is incomparable to the one Marcus Paige hit just seconds earlier.
Despite this, Jenkins’ shot is the one that will be remembered and will likely be part of March Madness highlights forever. While, to most, Paige’s will be nothing more than an afterthought.
The fact that this shot, made by such a beloved player playing in his final College game, could be forgotten only added to the intense heartbreak of losing the national championship for UNC and its fans.
North Carolina head coach Roy Williams said multiple times that Paige was one of his all-time favorite players to coach, and his heartbreak was evident in the postgame presser:
“So much of this year and last year, especially even more so this year, they were criticized for not being tough enough. I don’t know that I’ve ever had anybody make a tougher shot than Marcus Paige.”
While Williams and the majority of Paige’s teammates were able to redeem the crushing title game loss this past April, Paige never will be able to do so. One of the greatest acts both on and off the court in the history of North Carolina basketball had his career end by way of a buzzer beater in the national championship.
Doesn’t get much worse than that, does it?
But, Paige handled it with as much class as possible and moved on.
Last June, Paige was drafted in the second round by the Utah Jazz, playing for both the Jazz and the Salt Lake City Stars, Utah’s G-League affiliate. After short stints with the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Oklahoma City Thunder, he may just have found a home with the Hornets. He has remained completely supportive of his former teammates throughout the 2016-17 college basketball season.
And he continues to excel off the court as well.
Paige graduated last May with a degree in journalism, mass communication, and history. In less than two weeks, he will be getting married.
So, as bad as things may have looked the night of April 4, 2016, it worked out in the end, both for the Tar Heels and for Paige himself.
It is great to see Marcus Paige succeed for Tar Heel fans. For him to be doing it back in the Tar Heel state makes it all that much sweeter.
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