Practice doesn't begin for five weeks, and the opening tip is still more than two months away, but the accolades have already started coming in for North Carolina junior Marcus Paige.
Earlier this week Blue Ribbon Magazine released its 2014-15 College Basketball Notebook, which featured Paige in the middle of its cover showing its preseason All-American team. Paige was joined on the first team by fellow ACC players Malcolm Brogdon of Virginia and Montrezl Harrell of Louisville, Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky and Wichita State's Fred Van Vleet.
After the breakout season that Paige put together, this early All-American nod is likely to be one of many as increased expectations are put on the 6'1" guard. Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News has tabbed Paige as the top returning point guard in the country after he averaged 17.5 points and 4.2 assists per game and was more or less Carolina's only reliable weapon:
"Marcus Paige managed to enjoy an excellent sophomore season while bouncing between running the North Carolina offense and being the North Carolina offense."
Paige is sure to get named to other lists and all-star teams, but such mentions don't ensure success. What they do guarantee, though, is a raised awareness about a player and heightened scrutiny, something that could help boost a player to the next level or knock them down a peg.
Which way will it go for Paige?
The answer will come as the result of two main variables, one of which Paige can control and the other that he can only watch as it unfolds.
First, the latter: With a star-studded three-man recruiting class joining the Tar Heels roster, Paige looks to have some significant help coming in that will dramatically lessen his need to do it all. Point guard Joel Berry brings the ability to either spell Paige at the point or enable him to move over to the 2, where he can create more for himself without having to worry about finding opportunities for his teammates.
And in wings Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson, Paige will have a pair of teammates that can be explosive in transition and with their ability to use length to get to the rim. All of that will likely lead to Paige scoring at least a few points less per game in 2014-15.
This means Paige won't have to do as much, but that's where the other side of the coin comes into play. With the added expectations and notoriety, could Paige look at this scenario as one where he still feels he needs to be the guy and, therefore, tries to take on more than is needed? If he does, it could lead to offensive confusion when he tries to dominate the looks and others are ready and able to contribute.
Paige seems like he's handling the brighter spotlight pretty well so far. He told Turner Walston of GoHeels.com that the added attention on him is a sign of how good UNC will be this year, not just how well he is expected to perform. "People being excited of our basketball here is a good thing," he said. "And I think we're going to prove to a lot of people that they have good reason to be excited."
How Paige fares this fall and winter will go a long way toward determining how Carolina's season goes. What will be the key is whether player/team performance has a direct correlation or if it's more just part of the process.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.
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