- C.L. Brown, ESPN Staff Writer
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Sophomore guard Marcus Paige made it clear he’s not losing his desire to be a point guard, but he is planning on getting comfortable being North Carolina’s primary shooting guard for the near future. Until the playing status of both P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald is cleared up by the NCAA, Paige is the Tar Heels’ best option at the 2.
J.P. Tokoto's return for the season opener Friday against Oakland could bring some relief for Paige. Coach Roy Williams could go with a big lineup that moves Paige back to point guard with Tokoto at shooting guard and James Michael McAdoo at small forward. But even if that lineup is used, Paige will still play off the ball at times.
“I’m just ready to be on the court a lot more with our rotation being a little shorter,” Paige said. “A lot of those minutes are probably going to have to be at the 2, at least early, so I’m definitely trying to get in that mindset.”
The good news for Carolina is that Paige is making a smooth transition in the backcourt with freshman Nate Britt, who has showed the prototype speed of a Williams point guard. Britt could become just the ninth freshman point guard to start his first game at Carolina.
“He’s real easy to play with. You can tell he pushes the ball well and he’s going to do great,” Paige said. “He’s already getting comfortable, which is good. I have no problem playing alongside of him.”
What still needs work is Paige’s transition to having a shooting guard’s mentality. Anyone who observed Friday’s exhibition against UNC Pembroke could tell Paige hasn’t progressed to where playing off the ball is second nature. He’s still thinking the part, which is why he admittedly stood around too much on the perimeter against the Braves.
The irony of Paige having to play more at shooting guard is that Williams was encouraging him to look for his shot more anyway. After a sluggish start last season shooting from the perimeter, Paige became proficient by the end of the regular season and into postseason play.
He started last season making just 29 percent of his 3-point attempts through the first 19 games but finished the season shooting 39 percent behind the arc over the final 16 games.
“Even if the lineup wouldn’t have changed, my shooting numbers would have went up towards the end of the year just because I was finally settling in,” Paige said. “I’m a good shooter. Just once I started seeing the ball go in the second time around during ACC play... then I shot above 40 percent from 3 the rest of the year like I expected myself to do.”
Paige doesn’t think it will take as long for him to settle in at shooting guard. And he really doesn’t anticipate low shooting percentages to start off, either.
“[Williams has] reminded me that he has confidence in me as a shooter," Paige said. "I have confidence in myself as a shooter, so it’s not something I’m worried about at all this year.”