Undermanned On The Wing

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- Marcus Paige prepared during the offseason to play some minutes at the shooting guard position. But when asked who - in the absence of P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald and J.P. Tokoto - played small forward in North Carolina's recent scrimmage against Vanderbilt, the sophomore pointed his thumb inward and smiled.

"For stretches, yeah; it was unique," Paige said. "I've never done that before."

North Carolina's wing depth for the 2013-14 was a known issue entering the season. Reggie Bullock's NBA departure surprised Roy Williams, leaving the Tar Heels with three natural wings to cover both wing positions.

That's why the UNC coach approached Paige in the offseason to gauge his starting point guard's willingness to spend some minutes off the ball. The depth at point guard, and Paige's perimeter shooting skills, make it a feasible option on a situational basis, though at 6-1, 175 pounds, he is undersized for that position - let alone at small forward.

This is North Carolina's preseason reality.

UNC's Oct. 20 scrimmage was technically "secret" because the NCAA requires that it not be publicized or attended by anyone other than the teams and their staff. Both programs use the unconventional game as an opportunity to test the team, its lineups, and specific scenarios.

Vanderbilt is expected to finish in the bottom half of the SEC this season, but by all accounts, the undermanned Tar Heels didn't fare well against the Commodores.

Paige confirmed it was a learning experience, especially for the freshmen, and that the absence of the team's three wing players had a major impact on chemistry and execution.

"It's different because you have to deviate from what you've been practicing and then you have to play with someone you're not used to playing with, it throws a wrench in your plans," he said.

"We didn't really have a starting lineup, we just rotated through several different lineups – we tried a couple small guys, we tried going big. Coach was trying a whole bunch of different stuff."

With less than two weeks until the season opener, the duration of Hairston's suspension for his offseason transgressions remains in a to-be-determined state.

"I'm closer, but I'm not ready to make (the decision)," Williams said following Late Night. "We've just got to see how some things play out and he's got to do some more things."

There's also the element of the NCAA in Hairston's fate. Williams confirmed for the first time on Friday that the NCAA is a factor in McDonald's situation as well.

"It's the kind of thing where there are still things in process with P.J. and Leslie both, but (the NCAA) is part of it, yes," Williams said.

Tokoto sat out the scrimmage and is certain to miss the exhibition - and nothing more. It's the result of the sophomore not following proper protocol before playing in two summer league games.

"It was a sanctioned league, but he hadn't done his paperwork. He played, we found out about it, called him, the next day he did his paperwork, the next day he was approved," Williams said. "We suggested and said what we'd like to do with the NCAA is hold him out of the scrimmage and hold him out of the exhibition game and (the NCAA) agreed and said everything was fine."

Considering that they were held out of the scrimmage, and the potential – or expectation in Hairston's case – of missing regular season games, it wouldn't be a surprise to see Hairston and McDonald join Tokoto on the sideline for Friday's exhibition against UNC-Pembroke.

"Hopefully I don't have to (do it again)," Paige said of playing small forward. "I don't plan on it, but it depends on situations."

Friday may be one of those situations.

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