Lucas: Paige Looks Ahead
Release: 04/30/2014

By Adam Lucas

Part 1: Paige Looks Back

Suitably despondent following Carolina's season-ending loss to Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, Marcus Paige looked for refuge in the only place that made sense to him: video coordinator Eric Hoots' office.

Upon returning to Chapel Hill, multiple people mentioned to Paige that the loss to the Cyclones bore some resemblance to Carolina's 2007 NCAA Tournament defeat at the hands of Georgetown. Eventually, the sophomore guard decided it was time for him to see for himself.

Later that week after the Tar Heels were eliminated in San Antonio, Paige told Hoots he wanted to see the Georgetown game. So they sat in Hoots' office and watched the entire thing--the 11-point Tar Heel lead in the second half, the 1-for-23 UNC shooting during a stretch during the second half and overtime, Wayne Ellington's missed potential game-winning jumper at the end of regulation and Georgetown's 14-0 run in overtime that led to a 96-84 Hoyas win.

Hoots' office is around the corner from the rest of the coaching staff, so they could hear that he was watching a game, and felt compelled to come see exactly which game it might be.

"Every single assistant coach came in and said, 'What are you doing?'" Paige says. "We told them we were watching the 2007 Georgetown game and they were like, 'Why? This is horrible.' I just told them it was step one of the recovery process. It was a good teaching point. I needed to see a game with just as bad a letdown as our game."

Let's hope it's another seven years until there's another usable example. Suitably cleansed, Paige began his offseason planning process. Having lost weight during the course of the 2013-14 season, he took two weeks off from the grind of basketball and weights. But he's now back working with Jonas Sahratian four days per week, and he's beginning to do some individual basketball work in addition to pickup games with his teammates.

According to tradition, it's typically the team's returning leader who organizes most of those pickup sessions, from the time of the games to setting up the teams. With James Michael McAdoo's departure for the NBA, those responsibilities are likely to fall to Paige.

"I've always liked that type of responsibility," the Iowa native says. "As this past year went on, I became more of the actual leader and a little more vocal. It's good that everyone will be on the same page in terms of who is the leader and who to look for in certain situations. I embrace that role and I'm already trying to push certain guys to get them in the gym. As a leader, with certain guys it's important to realize you have to push certain buttons."

Paige will still have a pre-summer meeting with Roy Williams to identify areas the head coach wants him to improve on during the offseason, but he's already begun working on a few skills. One of the keys on that list is improved proficiency with his floater.

He's already used the shot on a couple memorable occasions, but wants to make it a more regular part of his offensive arsenal.

"You have to work on shooting it at different angles from different spots on the floor with both hands," Paige says. "When you're practicing it, you can't shoot it right at the rim because in a game there will be a 6-foot-11 guy standing there blocking it. It's a touch and feel thing. It's hard to practice perfectly, because in games you don't know how fast you'll be moving when you're shooting it or how much height the defender will have."

Ever the creative player, Paige has even occasionally used The Gun, a tool normally used to feed jump shooters, as a defender for his practice floaters because it has a high net designed to catch balls around the rim.

It's all part of the process he hopes will end with him watching celebratory videos instead of self-wallowing videos next year in mid-April. After Paige captured nine awards at Carolina's end-of-season banquet, assistant coach C.B. McGrath challenged the Tar Heels from the podium for someone to outwork Paige over the summer and lessen his trophy haul next year.

 "I definitely want my teammates to do that," Paige said. "That means our team gets better. But I have the mindset that no one is going to outwork me. And once you get into that mindset, it becomes an obsession to get better. That's the goal for me: I want to get better so that I can help my team win more than just one NCAA Tournament game."

Adam Lucas is the editor of CAROLINA.


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