The phrase ‘better late than never’ described the night Marcus Paige went through while waiting to hear his name called in the 2016 NBA Draft.
Despite knowing a few teams had shown interest in him, the second round dwindled down, and it was becoming an increasing likelihood Paige would enter professional basketball as an undrafted free agent.
That was until the 55th pick, when the Brooklyn Nets selected him.
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Paige said. “I knew I had a few teams that were really interested in the second round, so as each pick came up I was hoping to see my name called and when I finally did it was a great moment because it’s something you work for your entire career.”
His career as a Net didn’t last very long, though. Before he could even gather his thoughts, he was traded to the Utah Jazz shortly after the pick was made.
After a couple months with the Jazz, he was waived, and later acquired by their D-League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars.
“I was actually traded like five minutes after I was selected by the (Brooklyn) Nets so I kinda knew I was going to Utah,” Paige said. “I went to summer league with them and training camp was a great experience, got to learn a lot from guys like George Hill. They just didn’t have any roster spots, so I’ve been here ever since.”
With his first season in the D-league just about over, the 23-year-old praised the players he’s surrounded by, as well as the style of play.
“It’s a really talented league, it probably doesn’t get quite the respect it deserves considering the quality of players that are down here,” Paige said. “That’s because everybody’s still trying to make it up to the NBA. It was a good learning tool for me, especially through the year and the pro style is different.
“It’s more pick-and-roll, more space and pace and more threes, so getting to adjust to that and learning how to play like a professional has been good.”
In just about 33 minutes of time, Paige is averaging 12.3 points per game and two assists, shooting 36 percent from beyond the arc.
After playing as a natural point guard throughout college with North Carolina, Paige says he has had to learn how to adjust to a new position, amongst other things.
“I think I’ve been OK, I’ve been good in spurts throughout the season,” he said. “I’ve been playing shooting guard and I’m a natural point guard so it’s been tough to play off the ball as much as I have.
“It’s been an up-and-down year but I think I’ve definitely gotten better.”
In regards to other adjustments he has had to make, Paige talked about learning how to operate as a proper guard, and adjusting to different defensive schemes.
Heading into the offseason, he is aiming to improve his entire game, with one area more than others.
“Definitely defense, that was one thing the Jazz wanted me to concentrate on this season,” Paige said. “I think I’ve improved a lot, becoming more disruptive and more active as a defender.”
Paige keeping eye on Tar Heel run
When University of Kentucky freshman Malik Monk hit a game-tying three pointer with 10 seconds remaining against UNC in last week’s Elite Eight contest, Paige, and the rest of Tar Heel nation, began to experience déjà vu.
Many will recall Paige’s late game heroics in last year’s championship game against Villanova, hitting a late three to tie it, only to be outdone by a game winner from Wildcats forward Kris Jenkins.
The flashbacks to that dark day last April quickly vanished when sophomore Luke Maye hit a deep two to win it for the Tar Heels, sending them back to the Final Four for the second consecutive year.
“I was in my apartment and I was just going crazy,” said Paige regarding Maye’s shot. “I got really nervous when Monk hit that three because they had just scored like seven points in ten seconds or something crazy like that. But then when Luke hit that shot I was going nuts.”
Watching former teammates such as Justin Jackson, Kennedy Meeks and Joel Berry II succeed has been a joy for Paige to see.
“It’s pretty cool, a lot of those guys are my good friends so to see them go on this run and have as much fun as they’re having has been pretty cool to watch as a fan,” he said.
“They’re the leaders of the team now after me and Brice (Johnson) left,” Paige added. “To see them take that role on and excel has been cool to watch.”
With a trip back to the title game on the line Saturday versus Oregon, Paige thinks a win versus the Ducks will exorcise those demons from a year ago.
“I definitely think so, that’d be great redemption for them and I think a lot of the fans would appreciate it even more after the run we had last year to bounce back and win it all,” he said.