KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Marcus Paige is on track to make his return in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against No. 2 Maryland next Tuesday.
“The bottom line, guys, is if we had to have him, we could have played him last week, but we don’t have to have him,” Roy Williams told reporters following No. 9 UNC’s 80-69 win over Northwestern on Monday. “We are trying to be very cautious.”
Paige, who participated in UNC’s pregame shootaround at the Sprint Center, had X-rays on his broken right (non-shooting) hand at the end of the last week. While the fracture is still visible (and likely will be for several months), according to Paige, the bone formation process has progressed enough to warrant his return.
“The basketball part - passing, catching, dribbling - all of that stuff feels good now,” Paige said. “Now it’s a matter of if it hits somebody or if I fall, is it in a good enough place, healing-wise, to not be affected by that? Or is it healed enough to be able to take some contact? That’s the thing they’re not 100 percent sure about yet, so that’s why I’m not playing.”
Paige fractured the third metacarpal on his right hand on Nov. 3 while defending freshman teammate Luke Maye’s drive to the basket. The All-American’s hand got caught in Maye’s jersey near the shoulder and bent back.
During his doctor visit last week, Paige’s hand was put through similar rough motions to check durability.
“He started doing some tests with [my hand] and I had a little bit of pain when he started jerking it back and forth,” Paige said. “So that was kind of the final test. If you can’t handle a little bit of rigid movement against it, then you can’t play yet, so I’m probably five or six days off.”
Paige has yet to participate in a full contact practice since his injury, although that will change once UNC returns from Kansas City. He has been able to lift weights, noting that he can hold dumbbells without issue.
When asked about playing against Maryland, Paige estimated his chances to be in the 90 percent range.
“It’s going to be extremely difficult for me not to be out on that court Dec. 1,” Paige said.