SAN ANTONIO REGIONAL: Ties abound for Tar Heels in Texas
There will be at least one Iowa State student in the North Carolina cheering section when the Tar Heels face the Cyclones in the NCAA Tournament Round of 32 today — though he promises not to wear red.
Jack Halupnik, a classmate of UNC sophomore Marcus Paige at Linn-Mar (Iowa) High School, is staying with the Paige family and will be joining them at AT&T Center for the game today (5:15 p.m., CBS).
“He better be cheering for us because he’s on my ticket,” Paige said. “I told him if he’s coming and he’s on my ticket, he’s wearing Carolina blue. But I can’t change how he feels about the game.”
The point guard guessed that half of his high school roots for Iowa State, and he got plenty of texts from friends once the brackets were released Sunday.
The Cyclones offered Paige a scholarship when he was in eighth grade — it came from then-ISU coach Greg McDermott, who is also in San Antonio, now as Creighton’s head coach. But Paige’s ultimate decision came down to UNC and Kansas.
“I had a bunch of options closer to home that I did like,” Paige said. “But at the end of the day, I had dreams of playing at a school like North Carolina. I grew up a North Carolina fan. Kendall Marshall was having a fantastic run; he had just won the starting point guard job. So it was kind of hard not to see myself in a few years following his footsteps and being the next point guard in that lineage.”
Paige joined Raef LaFrentz, Kirk Hinrich and Harrison Barnes as Iowa prep stars who committed to Roy Williams. Williams started recruiting in Iowa when he coached at Kansas, and invited Iowa coaches — including Paige’s mom, Sherryl Paige — to his coaching clinics. Williams kept visiting Iowa when he got to UNC.
“I didn’t get everybody I wanted by any means,” Williams said. “But I wanted to keep going back, because every player I’ve had from there I’ve loved his values and everything about him.”
McDermott’s son, Creighton all-America Doug McDermott, was a high school classmate of Barnes in Iowa.
Tar Heels have area ties
UNC freshman Isaiah Hicks by this time last year had led Oxford’s J.F. Webb High School to the state 3-A title.
On Friday, he played in his first NCAA Tournament game.
The state title game actually generated more butterflies, Hicks said. “I would say (I) was more nervous playing for the (state) championship, because that was the last round, that was it,” Hicks said.
Hicks was no stranger to the basketball gym at Chapel Hill High School, where the Warriors and Tigers tangled as conference opponents.
UNC walk-ons James Manor and Denzel Robinson played at Chapel Hill under then-coach Tod Morgan.
“I never, like, dreamed that in my life I would be wearing the (UNC) jersey,” Manor said. “I’m just lucky to be here.”
No shortage of basketball players have come out of Chapel Hill, East Chapel Hill and Carrboro high schools, but few ever suit up for the Tar Heels, said Robinson, whose father, Steve, is one of UNC coach Roy Williams’ assistants.
“It is something that is really cool,” Denzel Robinson said.