UNC's Marcus Paige up in rafters over all-America honor
North Carolina sophomore Marcus Paige’s breakthrough season has ensured that he will receive one of the program’s highest honors.
Paige was named second-team all-America by The Sporting News, which means his jersey will join 52 others that are hanging from the rafters at the Smith Center.
Paige wasn’t available for an interview on Tuesday, but in a video posted on UNC’s official website, he said that earning that distinction “is one of the best feelings I’ve ever had.”
”It really hasn’t hit me yet,” Paige said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to truly appreciate it 100 percent until after the season, when I can sit back and reflect. I’m still in midseason, ‘What do we need to do in the ACC Tournament?’ mode, but I understand that it’s a great honor. … I can’t even imagine that years from now I’ll be mentioned with some of those guys that have done great things.”
Paige will join 44 other former Tar Heels who have their jersey honored by being named either ACC player of the year, first- or second-team All-America, Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Final Four, MVP of an NCAA Tournament winning team (as voted by coaches and teammates) or an Olympic gold medalist.
Aside from the white jerseys in the Smith Center that represent honored players, eight more players have their blue jerseys retired in the front row of the rafters after they were named national player of the year by one of six specific organizations.
“Coach (Roy Williams) always says to make your dreams and goals high,” Paige said in the video. “He talked to me a little bit yesterday about not being complacent or being satisfied that I got my name up there, and try to shoot for more. Shoot for a national championship, try to get to a Final Four, maybe get your jersey to the front row — lead your team. Those are things that I’m going to aspire to now, but I’m still definitely happy that I’m going to be up there.”
Paige was named the ACC’s Most Improved Player by both the media and the coaches on Monday after he finished in the top six in points (17.1), assists (4.5), steals (1.6), minutes (35.6) and free-throw percentage (second, 87.6).
Seemingly the easiest way for Paige to move his jersey up in the pecking order would be to play the entire game like he plays the second half. In 17 games this season, the sophomore point guard scored in single digits in the first half and double digits in the second half. The most obvious examples were the overtime win in Raleigh, when Paige scored 31 of his 35 points against N.C. State after halftime, and the series against Duke, when Paige had 30 of his 36 points in the second half.
Still, Williams said at his pre-ACC Tournament press conference on Tuesday that he wasn’t worried about the disparity.
“If it ain’t broke, quit trying to fix it,” Williams said.
Williams said that most point guards start the game by trying to get everyone involved and figuring out how opponents will play them. He also said that Paige was unselfish by nature and doesn’t want to focus on scoring until it becomes clear that’s what the team needs.
“Would I love for him to score 30 points in the first half and 30 points in the second half?” Williams said. “Darn right, I’d take that. But my opinion is it would be dumb to try and change it.”
That said, Williams did seem willing to change his mind. As the press conference was ending, the Hall of Fame coach joked: “If you can figure out how to get Marcus to get 30 in both halves, you all come see me.”