Paige Moves Past Setback

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Freshman point guard Marcus Paige returned to North Carolina's starting lineup against East Tennessee State on Saturday after missing last week's game due to a shoulder injury.

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Paige sat out UNC's victory over UAB on Dec. 1 after jamming his left shoulder the Friday before in practice.

Following the 78-55 victory over ETSU, the Marion, Iowa product told reporters that he's not really sure how the injury happened. He reached back awkwardly over his head to catch a ball and shortly thereafter, his shoulder started to feel sore and gradually got worse.

X-rays taken on Monday came back negative and Paige returned to the practice court on Wednesday without any setbacks.

Other than UNC head coach Roy Williams noting that his point guard got winded too easily in his first game back, Paige performed well in 21 minutes, dishing out seven assists against two turnovers. He scored three points on 1-of-5 shooting, all from 3-point territory.

"[He] missed a game, missed a week of practice - those things always hurt you," Williams said. "It gave Dexter [Strickland] and Luke [Davis] more time, so that might be a positive out of it. I wouldn't think it'd be big as long as we can keep him healthy and as long as the shoulder isn't a recurring thing, I think he'll be fine."

Paige agreed.

"I'm just about where I want to be," Paige said. "There's still a little bit of pain when I do certain motions, but it's not really hindering me from anything. I was happy with the way it felt."

Paige also suffered strained his back in the second half against Butler in Maui. That injury, combined with last week's shoulder issue, raised the question as to whether or not his 6-foot, 157-pound frame was already taking a beating at the college level.

The rookie, however, stressed that both were weird injuries that don't happen frequently.

"It's not anything where it's like wear and tear or anything like that," Paige said. "I don't think the physicality has been too big of a problem for me."

Eight starts into his Tar Heel career, Paige is averaging 7.3 points on 37.5 percent shooting and has a 1.3:1 assist-turnover ratio (30 assists, 23 turnovers). He believes that he's progressing "pretty well" and took advantage of his time on the bench last Saturday to focus in on defensive rotations and intensity levels.

"It was good to see that from the way Coach gets to see it so that I could try to apply that to my game when I came back," Paige said.

The Maui Invitational road trip and the following trek to Bloomington, Ind. helped Paige become more comfortable in running the team. The checklist for a Williams point guard is notorious for its length, although Paige is making strides.

"It's definitely becoming more instinctive," Paige said. "Obviously I'm a freshman, so it's still going point-by-point and making sure I check most of them off, but it's becoming more of an instinct as I get more minutes and just get more experience. But it's a pretty long list. It's not easy, so I've been doing alright."

While huddling the team and making fast break calls are part of the learning process, the most challenging aspect thus far for Paige has been in remembering to get back to the center circle every time on defense and making the proper call.

His teammates have also expressed an increased comfort level with their new point guard less than a month into the season.

"I'm definitely getting comfortable playing with him," junior wing Reggie Bullock said. "He makes the extra pass, he's aggressive when he needs to be, he can shoot the ball very well.

"One of the things we can work on as a team - and it starts with him - is being able to pick up the point guard right when they take the ball out. If he plays defense out far like that, I think it gives everyone confidence to turn it up a notch on the defensive end."

The learning curve for Paige, as with all Tar Heel point guards, is steep. So far, he's handling it as well as can be expected.

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