North Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige spoke on Thursday after his team's season-ending loss against Wisconsin as if he expects everyone with remaining eligibility to return next season – including himself.
“The way I see it, everybody that's able to be back will be back and ready to go,” Paige said after UNC's 79-72 loss against Wisconsin in an NCAA tournament West Regional semifinal. “Obviously, things change. But I don't see it any different.”
Paige and Brice Johnson, the junior forward, figure to be the most likely of UNC's players who might consider leaving school to enter the NBA draft. Paige, who averaged 14.1 points, has led UNC in scoring the past two seasons. Johnson averaged 13.1 points and nearly eight rebounds this season.
Asked on Thursday if he had a decision to make about remaining at UNC, Johnson said, “I couldn't tell you.”
“I'm just worried about what's going on now,” he said, “and just trying to get better … I've got to get better in every aspect of my game because I didn't do as well (this season) as I thought I would.”
Johnson mixed in brilliant performances with ones in which he had a tendency to disappear for long stretches offensively. His inconsistency constantly drew the ire of UNC coach Roy Williams.
Neither Paige nor Johnson is projected as a first-round selection in the NBA draft, but neither was James Michael McAdoo when he decided a year ago to leave school. DraftExpress.com, a website that closely follows draft prospects, projects Johnson as a second-round pick. The website doesn’t project Paige as a first- or second-round pick.
If Paige and Johnson return, UNC would bring back virtually its entire team next season. The team's only scholarship seniors are Desmond Hubert and Jackson Simmons, both of whom averaged about four minutes of playing time this season. Hubert missed UNC's final 14 games after an ACL injury.
Paige spoke as if he'd already made up his mind to return.
“I really enjoy being here and being a part of this program,” he said. “And now I only have one more chance, so I'm going to try to use that as fuel. I can't tell you how much it means to be a part of this place and I only get one more year and it goes so fast.
“I'm going to give everything I have, every single day this off-season to be the best player I can be to help my team. And I hope that's kind of infectious and contagious in the locker room.”
Still, when asked directly about his plans Paige said he hadn't “really thought about” his future.
“The only thing on my mind is that I have one more chance,” he said. “I would say you won't have to bug me about it. I'm just a kid. That could change in five minutes, because I'm a 21-year-old kid. But you don't need to bother me about that.”