Whenever Marcus Paige heads home to Marion, Iowa, the Paiges play a family game of H-O-R-S-E on the halfcourt slab in their backyard.
They bust out the classics. Behind the backboard. Halfcourt. Straight up jumpers. Naturally, Marcus usually wins.
But not always.
His mom and dad were both college stars. His sister, Morgan, is a standout senior guard at Wisconsin. Growing up in a family enamored with basketball has shaped Marcus into the fundamentally sound, savvy and ultra-competitive basketball player he is.
That fire and talent will be on display when North Carolina (10-5, 0-2 Atlantic Coast) takes on Syracuse (15-0, 2-0) in the Carrier Dome at noon on Saturday.
“Growing up in a basketball family was pretty cool,” Paige said via email, “because we all share a common passion.”
For Sherryl and Ellis Paige, that passion stemmed into success at the collegiate level. Both of Paige’s parents scored more than 1,000 points at Mount Mercy University in Iowa, which is also where they met.
As they grew older and admittedly lost some of their youth, both turned to coaching. Sherryl coached for 20 years at Marion High School, while Ellis coached Marcus and his friends in AAU from 3rd to 8th grade.
“Marcus was kind of a momma’s boy,” Sherryl said. “He’d always say, ‘Are you going to the gym? Are you going to the gym? Can I go to the gym? Can I go to the gym?’”
Just like their parents, Marcus and Morgan became infatuated with the sport at a young age.
They used to attend their mom’s varsity practices, and Sherryl attributes their success to the fact that they understood the game at such a young age. Basketball was always the main topic of conversation in the Paige household. Because Sherryl was a coach, Marcus and Morgan had full access to the gym 24/7.
“I spent a lot of time growing up watching the game,” Marcus said. “Playing the game and learning the game. It’s a big reason why I still play today.”
Sherryl says the two usually don’t compete. Rather, they work with each other on the fundamentals their parents preached from a young age. Morgan confesses that Marcus can beat her pretty easily 1-on-1 now. Once he hit a certain height and age, it wasn’t a match.
But in H-O-R-S-E, it’s anyone’s game, and the pressure’s on.
The first one out has to buy dinner or clean the car – whatever the other three feel like making them do.
And the competition’s stiff. Sherryl’s a deadly shooter. Ellis is a Hall of Famer. Morgan’s a 1,000 point scorer herself. And Marcus is only one of the best scorers in the entire nation.
“It gets really, really heated” Morgan said. “I don’t think (my mom’s) ever found a shot she didn’t like.”
Sherryl gets on both of her kids if they miss a free throw. They can play the best game of their lives, but if they miss a free throw that’s the first thing she’ll say.
Yet when they dug up the archive, a scrapbook file the family shares, they found she only shot 78 percent.
“I don’t think that’s right,” Sherryl recalls saying.
“No, seriously,” she remembers them saying.
“OK, well that means you can be better than me,” Sherryl responded.
And Marcus has of late. He usually shoots in the 90s when the four of them take free throws together. He’s shooting 91.8 percent this season. Morgan has improved, too. She’s upped her average to 85.7 percent this year, her best mark in four years at Wisconsin.
This summer, the Paige family decided to host a 3-on-3 barbecue bash. They set up two tents, busted out the grill and divvied up the teams.
King of the court.
Marcus, Morgan and a friend beat their father’s team 19-17 in a heated battle.
“Actually I think he did hit the game winner,” Ellis Paige said. “And it was a big-time shot, because my guy was in his grill.
“The game was kind of so-so, and then all of a sudden it got serious,” he said with a laugh.
But sometimes Marcus doesn’t hit game-winners. Sometimes he struggles, like he did against Miami on Wednesday. When he does, though, he calls home.
His parents help him out not just as a mother or father, but as coaches who know his game inside and out. When Morgan and Marcus are both playing and they can’t make the game, they DVR as many as they can.
“I’m glad we had that as a family,” Paige said, “because it helped me as a player and helped us be closer as a family.”
Published on January 11, 2014 at 10:47 am
Contact Trevor: firstname.lastname@example.org | @TrevorHass