For the past 10 years, the number 5 has been an important number for Carolina basketball. Ty Lawson, Kendall Marshall, and Marcus Paige have all donned the baby blue number 5 jersey, and have all had immense success in their respective Tar Heel careers. With the graduation of the beloved Marcus Paige, a new Carolina player will wear number 5. Tony Bradley will try to live up to the success that the number 5 has brought to North Carolina basketball.
Since Ty Lawson chose the number 5 in 2006, the number has represented so much. When number 5 had the ball, every fan felt comfortable. When number 5 had the ball, the offense was going to be operated just how Roy Williams wanted it to operate. When number 5 had the ball, Carolina basketball was at its best.
Ty Lawson was one of the most exciting players in recent memory. When he had the ball, he was almost impossible to stop. A one-man fast break that arguably ran Roy Williams’ up tempo offense better than anyone was worth the price of admission. He had the perfect balance of seeking his own shot while also distributing the ball to his extremely talented teammates. Ty Lawson was the best point guard in the country in 2009, and is one of the best in North Carolina history.
The next player to wear number 5 was Kendall Marshall. He was a coach’s dream at point guard. The most prolific passer at North Carolina since Ed Cota, who not surprisingly also wore number 5, was the best possible point guard for the 2012 Carolina basketball team. With future pros Harrison Barnes, John Henson, Tyler Zeller, and Reggie Bullock on the team, a point guard that was capable of getting the ball to all of his weapons was essential. There was nobody better at this than Kendall Marshall. In 2012, Marshall broke the ACC record for assists in a season with 311 averaging an astounding 9.8 assists a game. If a Carolina player was open, Marshall was going to find him.
Kendall Marshall left UNC to pursue the NBA after his sophomore season opening up the number 5 for a skinny lefty from Marion, Iowa. Marcus Paige will forever have a special place in the hearts of Tar Heel faithful. Perhaps no player has been more important in Carolina basketball history. There certainly have been more talented players, but none of them had to endure what Marcus Paige did. He was the face of Carolina basketball throughout the AFAM scandal, and there could not have been a better person to represent The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill through that time. Paige was thrust into the starting role as a freshman when the aforementioned Marshall decided to go pro. His freshman year was a struggle, but he never lost the confidence of his coach. His sophomore year was his coming out party. He scored 17.5 points a game and was awarded second-team All-American. His junior and senior year seasons were up and down, but it didn’t matter. He was Marcus Paige, and we loved him.
Awards were not in short supply for those wearing number 5. Ty Lawson was the ACC player of the year in 2009, a second-team All American, and won the Bob Cousy award as the best point guard in college basketball. Marshall was a third-team All American and also won the Bob Cousy award in 2012. As mentioned before, Marcus Paige was a second-team All-American and an All-ACC performer.
It is also no surprise that when North Carolina had these number 5’s on their roster, they were successful. Ty Lawson lead one of the more dominant teams in Carolina history to a National Championship in 2009. In 2012, it feels like Kendall Marshall would have hoisted the National Championship trophy as well if he had not broken his wrist against Creighton. People may disagree with me on this, but I am certain they would have won. Just this past season, Marcus Paige made one of the most dramatic shots in Carolina history in the National Championship game against Villanova. Carolina may have lost, but Marcus Paige is a champion. When these three players were leading Carolina, they were never out of any game.
This year, Tony Bradley will wear number 5. It is just a number, but it is one that is close to the hearts of Tar Heel fans. Bradley certainly has big shoes to fill, but he is more than capable of doing it. The McDonalds All American has received high praise from his teammates, and is presumed to be the next great big man for Roy Williams. It will undoubtedly be odd seeing a number 5 jersey without “Lawson”, “Marshall”, or “Paige” on the back, but “Bradley” will still make Tar Heel fans proud.