Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Why Marcus Paige is key for UNC
By Jeff Goodman
UNC guard Marcus Paige averaged 10.4 points and 5.2 assists in the final 12 games of 2012-13.
Marcus Paige couldn’t handle it for the first part of last season. He was just 157 pounds and expected to be eased into his career as a point guard at North Carolina.
Kendall Marshall was supposed to be tutoring Paige, bringing him along slowly as he physically matured.
“That was the plan,” Paige said. “To come in and learn from him.”
The Marshall plan was scrapped when he left Chapel Hill after his sophomore season and headed to the Phoenix Suns, pressing Paige into immediate action as the team’s full-time point guard.
“Guys were physically stronger,” Paige admitted. “And my conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be. I was tired.”
“I thought I was ready,” he added. “But I wasn’t.”
Paige’s numbers through his first 23 games were not pretty: 7.0 points, 4.3 assists and just 29 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
But then Paige turned the corner in his final dozen games and showed more than just glimpses of what made him the top-rated point guard in the Class of 2012. He averaged 10.4 points, 5.2 assists and shot 44 percent from 3-point range.
Now Paige is ready, and not just to pick up where he left off. He’ll be a different player and could make the Tar Heels into viable ACC title contenders if P.J. Hairston’s suspension isn’t too lengthy and Roy Williams manages to locate a legitimate post presence.
Paige said he doesn’t foresee Williams going back to the small-ball system that was successful in the second half of last season.
“I think Coach [Williams] wants to establish a low-post, inside presence,” Paige said. “We did that last season more out of necessity.”
Paige said 6-foot-10, 280-pound sophomore Joel James is the guy most likely -- and able -- to fill the void in the middle. He wasn’t ready last season, and he has played organized basketball for just four years.
“I think we want it to be Joel,” Paige said. “Physically, he’s a monster -- a beast. His potential is through the roof. He’s starting to get the mental aspect.”
The other options are junior Desmond Hubert, who is more of a role player, as well as 6-9, 290-pound skilled freshman Kennedy Meeks, although he likely will need a year to get his body in better shape.
With Hairston back in the fold, whenever that is, and an improved Paige, that’s a formidable 1-2 punch on the perimeter. The low post remains unclear, as does the role of James Michael McAdoo.
McAdoo, 6-9 and 230 pounds, has seen his stock dip as he works to develop his game. Questions persist about whether he’s a power forward or more of a small forward. Although he did struggle at times, McAdoo still managed to average 14.4 points and 7.3 rebounds for the Tar Heels in his first full season.
Paige said that McAdoo has been focusing on his ballhandling abilities so he can be more effective on the perimeter, an area where he’s clearly more comfortable.
North Carolina might not be loaded with first-round talent as has been the case in the past, but the Tar Heels will go into the season with a point guard who is physically and mentally prepared -- unlike a season ago.
• Ahmad Starks was denied a hardship waiver by the NCAA on Tuesday. Starks transferred from Oregon State to Illinois -- and Champaign was more than 100 miles to his home in Chicago. The NCAA probably could have made an exception here, but it’s likely that the organization has grown tired of kids taking advantage of the hardship rule and abusing it to gain immediate eligibility. Illinois sorely needed Starks for this season.
• Starks' departure was a blow to Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, but the 14-game suspension to Beavers forward Eric Moreland could be critical to Oregon State’s success -- and to whether Robinson sticks around in Corvallis past this season.
Robinson still has talent on his team, but he enters his sixth season in the Pac-12 with a 31-59 league mark and the team finished 4-14 last season in the conference. Robinson has assembled enough talent the past few seasons to, at the very least, make an NIT appearance. However, thus far he has just three CBI berths (including one squad with a 14-18 overall mark).
• Georgetown coach John Thompson III said he’ll put his backcourt against any in the country. Otto Porter was the face of the Hoyas last season, but Markel Starks had a terrific season, averaging 12.8 points and shooting 42 percent from deep. Thompson also said sophomore D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera has shed about 20 pounds.