Marcus Paige’s hair is a little longer, a little curlier now than it was when he starred for the North Carolina men’s basketball team. Otherwise, he’s the same player UNC fans came to know during his four years in Chapel Hill.
Except Paige isn’t suiting up for the Tar Heels. Instead, he’ll be with the Charlotte Hornets this season (and the Greensboro Swarm, but more on that later) in his return to North Carolina.
Between his return to the state where he made his basketball name, signing one of the NBA’s new two-way contracts, and getting married in August, it’s been a whirlwind two months for the Iowa native.
“I’ve been here probably the past month, month and a half doing workouts with the guys,” Paige, 24, said at Monday’s media day at Spectrum Center. “Obviously getting married was fun, but the season (started Tuesday), so I’m excited to get to work.”
It’s been a winding road back to the state for Paige, who last played for UNC in 2016.
It’s hard to forget his final college game, UNC’s 2016 NCAA championship loss to Villanova. Before the Wildcats hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to win the game, it was Paige on the other end tying the score with a double-clutch 3-pointer.
Paige was later selected in the second round of the 2016 NBA draft by the Brooklyn Nets before being traded to Utah. He was waived by the Jazz in October 2016 and acquired by the Salt Lake City Stars of the NBA’s Development League. After a year starting for the Stars, he joined the Minnesota Timberwolves for this year’s summer league.
On Aug. 1, Paige finally got the chance to settle down when he signed one of the NBA’s two-way contracts. The deal with the Hornets officially brought him back to North Carolina.
This is the first season of the NBA’s two-way contracts, and each team is allowed to sign two of those players , increasing a roster from 15 to 17. The players signed to these deals are essentially part of an organization’s development league team – the Swarm, in the case of the Hornets – but can also play up to 45 games with the NBA squad.
Paige is one of those two players for the Hornets, the other being former Louisville standout Mangok Mathiang. Paige said he hasn’t been told how his time will be divvied up between the two teams.
“Not a whole lot has been explained in terms of specific time, but I just know that I talked to coach (Clifford) about being ready and treating it as if I’m a full member of the team so that at any given moment I can be a contributor,” Paige said. “I’m gonna be ready, and when they need me, I’m gonna be available.”
Paige, who is 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, doesn’t figure to get much playing time this season because of the Hornets’ depth at point guard. Behind All-Star Kemba Walker, the team signed former NBA Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and Julyan Stone this offseason. Paige should only see the court if one of the three suffers an injury.
Still, he said all the right things at media day and has the right people around him, including fellow Tar Heels on the roster to ease his transition in starting forward Marvin Williams and tryout-player Isaiah Hicks, who played in that same NCAA championship loss.
Paige said that when he arrived, Williams was one of the players who first called and gave him advice.
“He kind of told me how coach Clifford was, how his expectations for the first day of practice are very high,” Paige said. “Just to know what you’re doing and stuff like that as a young guy, because that’s how you make a good impression.
“He told me to just be ready and that’s what I plan to do.”