What a shot it was. A mind-bending, gooseflesh-inducing, double-clutch three-pointer from deep, his body twisting and hanging in the air, like he’d been CGI’d into a movie as some kind of left-handed master of hoop-fu. He’d pumped to avoid a block and maybe to pass, then decided to shoot anyway, and it was sublime.
And it wasn’t just the shot itself that was so beautiful, of course, but also the timing—the moment. When the ball dropped through the net, North Carolina’s comeback was complete and Marcus Paige pumped his fist, having just tied the national championship game against Villanova with 4.7 seconds left.
Even Michael Jordan, the Carolina legend who’s seen a clutch shot or two in his life and was watching from behind his old college team’s bench, got so excited he raised not one but both fists and extended them toward the heavens.
Five minutes earlier, North Carolina had been down by 10. Paige had pulled the guys together and told them, “Yo, we can fold and act like we’ve lost this game, or we can try to make this interesting. Live in the next five minutes. See what happens.”
Then he’d led the final charge. He hit a three a minute earlier than his last shot and a moment after that, he ripped down an offensive rebound and put it back up for two more. And then, that shot, the greatest shot in the history of North Carolina basketball. Even better than Jordan’s 1982 championship winner. Or at least, it would have been.
But then Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono brought the ball back down the court, and although most expected the senior point guard to take the last shot, he passed instead to a trailing Kris Jenkins, who rose up and stroked home a three, splashing it in at the buzzer.
The confetti rained down around them, and Paige’s shot didn’t matter, a legend made and unmade in a mad March instant.
Now it’s about a year later, and Paige and Arcidiacono are still going at it, but in a very different arena. In fact, “arena” is overselling it. It’s the Salt Lake City Community College gym, and the fans number not in the tens of thousands, nor even in the thousands, but in the hundreds. Paige is a guard for the NBA D-League’s Salt Lake City Stars, Arcidiacono for the Austin Spurs.
It’s not exactly where Paige thought he would be at this point in his career.
“There’s a lot of things you can think about when you’re playing in an empty gym,” he says.
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