Believe it or not, not everyone stays in Chapel Hill. Some folks are pulled away by work, or family, or school. Some people pass through this town like a summer breeze down Franklin Street, spending a fleeting moment in the traffic at the corner of Columbia before floating on to whatever’s next. I’m a well-documented lifelong townie, but even I found myself pulled away (albeit briefly) after I graduated high school. Some of you reading this are likely former Chapel Hill residents, or maybe just Tar Heel fans from afar.
It’s widely said that you can’t go home again. I still occasionally drive by my childhood house en route to visit friends who still live in my old neighborhood, and each time I do I’m stricken by how odd it is to have such an intimate knowledge of a stranger’s house. I reckon I could still trace the steps from the doorway to the bedroom that used to be mine with my eyes closed, yet I haven’t set foot in that house in nearly a decade and certainly never will again. I’ve moved four times since living there, and while each place has a spot in my heart, the memories aren’t quite as deeply ingrained.
My house has changed a couple of times; my home never has. It’s always been right here, no matter how far I strayed. When I lived in Boone, I would go home to Chapel Hill; I left Spain to come home to the southern part of Heaven. I understand that not everyone shares my fondness for this little college town, nor likely my overaching affection for place as a function of who we are and who we become. I think it’s a safe bet to say that I’m not alone in my affinity for this place, though.
Marcus Paige has come home. In case you have somehow missed the news, my friend and fellow THB writer Al Hood wrote about it six weeks ago, and the official UNC Basketball Twitter account posted it yesterday:
As a refresher, he will be filling the post vacated by Jackie Manuel, who shipped off to Washington, D.C. earlier this year.
I remember the ache that stuck with me for the longest after the 2016 National Championship game. It wasn’t the loss. It wasn’t really even the nature of the loss, although that still sucks to this day. It was the hollow feeling that Paige and Brice Johnson didn’t get the ending they deserved to their careers. The circus shot that Paige hit before that other shot deserved to go down in history as more than a footnote. The seniors on that team deserved a banner for the way they had represented the team I loved. Some of my favorite Tar Heels of all time were on that team. Some stuck around to finish the job the next season, but some had to leave Chapel Hill without a ring.
Paige won’t be bringing the ball up the court for the Tar Heels next season. He’ll be watching from the bench as others fill the role he used to, just like he did for the guys who came before him. Carolina might not be the #1 seed in the East Regional this season. Still, Paige will be back in the house, and that can only mean good things for the Tar Heels. I’m excited to have someone like that back around the program, in more of a role than summertime pickup games.
It feels like a homecoming to me, and I sincerely hope it does for Marcus Paige as well.