UNC's Marcus Paige eager to face Iowa

Iowa doesn't create much of a rise from North Carolina fans -- not even those who remember a referee's mistake that allowed Roy Marble to shoot the winning free throws instead of Ed Horton to beat the Tar Heels on Jan. 7, 1989.

But the Hawkeyes' visit to the Dean Smith Center as part of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is a game Marcus Paige would have circled -- if he circled games.

"He said if we lose that game he won't come home, he won't come home at all," said Paige's older sister Morgan.

Iowa State knocked the Tar Heels out of the NCAA tournament last season. But in many ways, Paige is more closely tied to Iowa. This game is more personal, something similar to a sibling rivalry.

These are the guys he grew up with exchanging their hoop dreams as they canvassed the land in search of tournaments and exposure.

He once rushed straight from the airport on a trip home to catch the second half of an Iowa game just to watch them play.

"I played with Adam [Woodbury] and Mike [Gesell] and played against Josh Oglesby and Jarrod Uthoff for a whole bunch of years growing up," Paige said. "That's a lot of their roster that I know and am familiar with so I just wanted to go down there say hi to everybody and catch up cause our families are cool, too."

How well do the Hawkeyes know him? Well enough to pull out old, embarrassing nicknames.

"We used to call him Picklehead," said Iowa guard Mike Gesell, who played on Paige's AAU team. "We said he had a small head. He'll kill me if I told you that but when you're tight with someone you always try to give them as much crap as you can."

The Marion, Iowa, native played with and against many on the Hawkeyes' roster including Gesell, who is one of his best friends. Many of his former high school classmates are enrolled at Iowa. His dad, who will be in attendance, is even still cool with Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey from the recruiting period.

"My grandpa is one of the biggest Hawkeye fans you'll find," Paige said. "So I don't know what he's going to do. Hopefully he's going to cheer for me, but he's been a Hawkeye fan longer than I've been alive so I can't knock him if he slips up once or twice."

Paige roots for them too, although obviously not on Wednesday night. He tries to watch as many Iowa games as he can when the Heels aren't playing. Gesell said he searches for Carolina games in the same fashion to see how Paige played. And when the two found out this summer that they would be playing each other in December, they immediately started banging out texts with their excitement.

"It'll be cool to compete against guys I consider to be really good friends," said Paige, who later added, "it won't be too hard to go at them because I know they're going to come at me."

Note: The Dean Smith Center will have an unfamiliar green backdrop during the Iowa game. It's all part of a "Turn It Green" campaign in conjunction with Repreve, a recycled fiber brand, to encourage recycling. More than 22,000 T-shirts made from recycled materials including plastic bottles will be distributed to attending fans. The NFL's Detroit Lions will also participate in the drive during its home game Sunday against Tampa Bay.