Marcus Paige didn't get much of an adjustment period as he learned to become Carolina's point guard.
Actually, he didn't get any adjustment period--Paige started the Tar Heels' first seven games of his freshman season. That's something very few of his point guard predecessors in the Williams era have had to do; the trio of Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall and Bobby Frasor came off the bench in 24 of their combined 106 games played as freshmen. Of the three, only Frasor started every game in which he played.
So if even Lawson and Marshall, two of the best point guards in Carolina history, needed an opportunity to observe, it seems logical that it could be beneficial for Paige. Unexpectedly, that's what he was able to do on Saturday against UAB, as a shoulder problem forced him to miss a game for his first time as a Tar Heel.
"I'm honestly not sure exactly when it happened," Paige said yesterday. "I think I reached backwards to try and catch a ball on defense, but there really wasn't a specific incident with a sharp pain until after practice."
At Saturday's shootaround, Paige had trouble dribbling and passing, making it an easy decision to rest him.
But the Iowa native says his time on the bench might have been beneficial. In his first seven games, he was having to listen to the Tar Heel coaching staff and immediately make adjustments. He also faced the problem every basketball player in America encounters-even when it's coming from a Hall of Fame coach, sometimes it's difficult to fully grasp and implement the instructions your coach is giving you when there's no time to understand why he wants it done that particular way.
Forced to be only an observer, Paige had a few moments of clarity as Carolina dispatched the Blazers, 102-84.
"By sitting there, you can learn a lot about exactly what Coach is talking about," he said. "Sometimes he says things while you're on the court and you're like, 'What are you talking about?' But then you sit on the side and watch, and he's exactly right. You learn a lot just from watching.
"In practice, Coach had really been stressing playing with a greater sense of urgency, and I saw the difference that made when we did it. I saw some defensive lapses that were easier to see from the bench. And I saw the difference it made when we picked guys up earlier and were talking and communicating more on defense."
Williams was hopeful Paige might work back into practice on Wednesday, but before Tuesday's session, the freshman said his shoulder felt better and that he hoped to do more than expected in that afternoon's practice. His status for Carolina's next game will be determined after a busy week that includes not only basketball work, but the beginning of exams.
Forty minutes of study on a Saturday night doesn't necessarily mean Paige will turn into a different player when the Tar Heels host East Tennessee State on Saturday night, the lone game this season not on regular television (tickets are available, and all fans attending are asked to bring a toy for the Toys for Tots effort). As he thinks back over his first seven games, he knows there are certain plays and certain passes that he'd do differently if given the chance. Making those mistakes--he has 23 assists and 21 turnovers--are part of learning the speed of college basketball.
"When you make such a big jump from high school to college, it's a completely different game," he says. "We play four freshmen, and there are going to be times we make mistakes that juniors or seniors would never make. I've had a couple passes where I thought immediately, 'Oh, you can't make that pass in college.' But the fact that we're getting a lot of playing time early will help us tremendously down the road. We want to get to the point that we're playing like veterans later in the season."