There has been a recent trend of UNC Athletics alumni returning to the Carolinas in a professional capacity. Only a few years ago, Marvin Williams and Tyler Hansbrough signed contracts with the Charlotte Hornets. Earlier this year, Julius Peppers returned to the Carolina Panthers. And now, Marcus Paige and Isaiah Hicks, after NBA Summer League stints with other teams, have signed contracts with the Hornets as well, returning to the state in which they created lifetime memories for both themselves and Tar Heel fans as student-athletes at the University of North Carolina.
Paige signed a two-way contract, meaning that while he will likely spend the majority of his time with the Hornets’ G-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm, he is eligible to play up to 45 days with the Hornets. The contract is more lucrative than a typical G-league contract, and becomes even more so if Paige does get called up to the NBA level. Charlotte has been vocal about looking for a third point guard for their roster, and while they are likely to sign a veteran to fill that role for the time being, Paige certainly has the ability to shine in the G-League, and that could become an opportunity to take that role for the Hornets. As a point guard who can shoot from outside and defend all along the perimeter, Paige certainly has the ability to be a valuable piece for an NBA team.
Hicks, coming off an up-and-down Summer League stint with the Los Angeles Clippers, signed a training camp contract. He will be one of 17 players on the Hornets’ roster as the team goes into training camp, and have the opportunity to impress the Hornets’ coaching staff even though he is unlikely to make the roster right away. He will, however, try to get a chance to play for the Swarm, a season-long audition for NBA coaches across the country. During his Summer League stint, he turned heads with his defensive instincts, a notable trait for a rookie, so that may be a leg up he has on his competition as he prepares for the preseason in addition to his athleticism and strength on the offensive end.
Both professional and collegiate teams in the Carolinas have taken to using the hashtag #OneCarolina to show unity among teams in the region and to support teams, such as the 2016 Panthers, 2016 Clemson Tigers football team, and 2016 and 2017 Tar Heel basketball teams, who were going to be playing in national championships. Moves like these reflect this fluidity; many Tar Heel fans will be drawn to the Hornets and the Swarm due to these signings, and in this way, Carolina teams and fans are taking care of each other. This isn’t to say that Paige and Hicks aren’t deserving of their opportunities, but there is certainly something special about them returning to North Carolina as opposed to playing professionally anywhere else.