North Carolina

Michael Jordan first to speak in UNC locker room after loss

It was hard to find the words to say to the Tar Heels after their heartbreaking, last-second 77-74 loss to Villanova in the national championship game.

But Michael Jordan wanted to be the first to try.

“Honestly I didn’t even know who was talking until about 30 seconds until after he had started,” senior Marcus Paige said. “I didn’t have a chance to look up. I was so hurt from what had just happened.

“But I look up and see the greatest player that ever played basketball assuring us and saying it’s okay, that he’s proud of us, that we made him proud to be a Tar Heel and be a Tar Heel alum, that you can’t be a great winner without having to experience struggles and losses and how to use this as fuel. It’s tough for me because I never get to do this again at this level, but I can internalize what happened here and use it as fuel going forward in my career. I’m sure the guys coming back can never forget this moment and use that to motivate them through the next couple of years.”

Jordan, who won six NBA titles with the Chicago Bulls and is now owner of the Charlotte Hornets, is the most famous in a long, proud line of Tar Heels basketball alumni. And after Monday night’s game, Paige joined their ranks.

“I’m forever thankful and forever indebted for having a chance to walk in that Dean Dome and be a part of something special,” Paige said.

“I’ll be able to say that I graduated from the University of North Carolina, played for four years for one of the best coaches to ever walk the sidelines. He taught me how to be a man, and I know that I’m going to be successful in whatever I do because of the experience that I had here.”

Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer