By Adam Lucas
It didn't take very long into Marcus Paige's professional basketball career before he realized the importance of his Tar Heel background.
During summer workouts with the team that drafted him, the Utah Jazz, Paige was approached by Utah assistant Tony Lang, who played at Duke. Lang frequently talked about how much he liked Dean Smith, and one day said to Paige, “You Carolina guys are just different. All of you are friends, and anytime we go to a new city, the Carolina guys are running up to each other and hugging each other.”
In the preseason, the Jazz went to Portland, and Paige experienced it first-hand. “I've never talked to Ed Davis in my life,” he said of the former Tar Heel big man. “And he came over to me at halftime and we talked for six or seven minutes, and it was like we had always been good friends. If you're not part of it, you'll never understand it. There are Tar Heels everywhere you go, and it's so special and unique.”
Paige is finding those Tar Heels in Santa Barbara right now, where he's working out at the Peak Performance Project after a first professional season spent in Salt Lake City with the Salt Lake City Stars of the NBDL. He played heavy minutes for the Stars and averaged 12.1 points per game.
He won't get much time off this summer, as he'll participate in Jazz minicamps and play in the NBA Summer League from July 7-17 in Las Vegas. He'll also marry longtime girlfriend and former UNC dance team member Taylor Hartzog on August 12.
Paige spent much of his life preparing and hoping for a life as a professional athlete. Now that he's done it for a year, he has discovered some unexpected challenges.
“I never realized how much down time you have,” he says. “When I was in college, guys like Kendall (Marshall) would tell me about it, but you never listen to them. Your job is to play a sport, but there are only so many hours in the day you can devote to physical activity, so you have to make the most of your days as an adult. There's a lot of uncharted territory, and I think I have a good chance in the next year or two to get where I want to be.”
The cerebral Paige's advantage in the quest for a bigger role with the Jazz will always be his understanding of the game. That knowledge, combined with his Carolina background, is an important asset.
“When I was in camp with the Jazz, I saw the amount of detail put into everything, and the fact that I didn't have a problem with that was a great feeling,” he says. “I learned the offense faster than anyone, because Coach Williams has such attention to detail and he is so diligent about what he wants done. That's all the pro game is. You get one chance to apply what the coach is telling you, and if you can't do it, you might not see the court for a week.
“You could tell guys from other situations struggled with it. I could do it because of what Coach Williams demanded of us in college. You run into different schemes and styles and offenses in the pros, but it comes down to being able to be coached, and Coach Williams is great at getting players ready for that part.”