By Adam Lucas
Of course they’re being honored together.
That’s really the only way Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson could have their jerseys recognized in the Smith Center. In Carolina basketball history, there are some players we remember most frequently as part of a duo or trio. Miller and Lewis. Sheed and Stack. Vince and Antawn (and Ademola).
And Marcus and Brice.
The duo already officially have their jerseys in the Smith Center rafters, but during tomorrow night’s Carolina-Virginia game, the official jersey honoring ceremony will take place. It’s fitting that they will both be there, as they are one of the most accomplished twosomes in Tar Heel history. Both rank in the top 20 in all-time Carolina points; they are the only set of teammates in the history of the program who arrived in Chapel Hill together, departed Chapel Hill together, and in-between found time to be two of the most prolific 20 scorers in UNC history.
Think of all the great players in Carolina’s storied past—they are the only two who have pulled it off.
Each excelled in their own way separately, as both Johnson and Paige rank in the top 10 of another career Carolina category (Johnson is fifth all-time in rebounding, while Paige is eighth all-time in assists). Paige had the unforgettable gamewinner at NC State. Johnson exploded onto the national stage with 39 points and 23 rebounds at Florida State.
Early in their careers, it looked like Paige might be more of a solo act. Through his first two seasons, Johnson had started a combined four out of 70 games. But he ended his career with one of the best senior seasons in Tar Heel history, and Paige and Johnson combined to lead Carolina to the national title game. Now, they'll receive one of the program's ultimate individual honors. It's hard to imagine how far they've come: this kid from Marion, and this kid from Orangeburg, together at midcourt at the Smith Center, having progressed from overwhelmed freshmen to the pantheon of Tar Heel greats.
One of their best attributes can’t be quantified on a stat sheet and won't be mentioned during the ceremony: they never left. At a time when they had to answer plenty of questions about problems they knew nothing about, they stuck it out instead of giving up. And instead of simply surviving, they found a way to thrive, and to lift everyone else with them.
Like any great duo, they made each other better. Johnson needed Paige’s even temperament to soothe a sometimes fiery on-court persona. Paige needed Johnson to provide an interior presence that made the Tar Heels click offensively and defensively. Through it all, the roommates never seemed to change. Late last season, we asked them to look through some of their favorite career moments. It was an enjoyable look back for two players who helped guide Carolina through some sometimes turbulent times that were not of their own making.
It’s still a little difficult to think of them as former players. Even almost a year after they played their last game for the Tar Heels, you still somewhat expect to bump into them around the Smith Center or see them on Franklin Street.
Johnson was in Durham last week for the game at Duke. After the game, as he greeted some old friends, one of them reintroduced him to his wife.
“I know who this is,” Johnson said with an exasperated sigh. “You act like I didn’t go to school here for four years!”
We’re glad they both did. Tomorrow night, we'll get the opportunity to tell them.