Logan Ulrich is a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He’s majoring in journalism with a focus on reporting and is on track to graduate in May of 2017. For the past three years, he’s worked at The Daily Tar Heel – UNC’s student-run newspaper – including as an assistant sports editor this past year where he helped cover the football team’s run to the ACC Championship and the basketball team’s run to the national title game. This year, he’ll continue on as a senior writer at the DTH as well as intern with the Raleigh News and Observer, covering UNC sports. From Troutman, NC, Logan is the son of Tim and Paula Ulrich and is the oldest of three (3) siblings, sister Rebecca and brother Micah Ulrich. On August 14th, 2016, Logan married Amanda Elaine Haney. After graduation next spring, he will be looking for any place that will let him tell stories for a living.
Marcus Paige hung in midair and our hearts hung in our throats.
This was it. This was North Carolina’s best chance at winning the national title against Villanova. Four years of work and strife and of answering for the sins of their predecessors rested on this shot. An off-balance, double-clutching heave off a broken play to attempt to force overtime.
We all watched in disbelief. Surely Marcus deserved a better shot to tie the game. He’d already done so much. The Tar Heels trailed by ten with five minutes left, but he resurrected them. He hit a three from the corner with 95 seconds remaining, then with under 30 seconds to go he scored after missing a layup, somehow rebounding the ball in the midst of four opposing players and willing it into the basket.
Surely he deserved better than a desperation shot in the last game of his college career. For four years, he’d been the engine powering the Tar Heels, their unquestioned leader. Whenever the team needed a big shot, eyes turned to Marcus. There were game-winning layups like against Louisville and N.C. State, kissed perfectly off the glass as he absorbed contact and sacrificed his body for the team. There were momentum-swinging threes that always came at the perfect time and there were games where Marcus simply could not be stopped. No matter how much attention defenses paid him, sometimes it seemed like it was the pure power of his will that made the ball go into the basket.
It’s hard to find a player more universally beloved in Tar Heel lore. Coach Roy Williams talks of Marcus as fondly as he does his own children. He was a favorite in the media for his thoughtful and well-spoken answers to questions and was an Academic All-American for two straight years. He always had time for the fans, especially the young ones. Even Michael Jordan left after his junior season, but Marcus stayed faithful, returning after an electric sophomore year where he was an All-American and his NBA stock was as high as it would ever be for the skinny six-foot-two point guard from Iowa.
In return, he was battered and broken. Plantar fasciitis and an ankle injury sapped his explosiveness junior year and he wasn’t the same all season. Then he broke his non-shooting hand before his senior year even began, causing him to miss the first month of the season. He struggled through most of ACC play with an unprecedented shooting slump — UNC’s all-time leader in made threes isn’t supposed to go three weeks without making a single three or shoot 2-10 at home against Duke.
But he powered through. He continued to lead on the floor, making his teammates greater as he became lesser. They responded with unwavering confidence in him, unshakable in their belief that when the time came and they needed a hero, Marcus would respond like he always had.
Now, as the ball soared toward the rim with a parabolic grace that belied the frenzy of its launch and the weight of the dreams it carried, we all watched. We somehow dared to hope this shot would go in. Not just because we wanted it so badly, but because Marcus wanted it, and he deserved it more than anyone.
The ball hit the back iron and rattled in, finishing with a defiant swirl through the net as Marcus pumped his fist, Roy Williams raised his arms and everyone in Chapel Hill lost their minds.
At that instant, none of doubted this was meant to happen.
You of course know how the story ends. There were still 4.7 seconds left on the clock, an eternity in college basketball. Kris Jenkins hit an even bigger shot and left no time to chance. 77-74. Villanova wins and Paige’s shot is forever overshadowed.
No one watching that night will ever forget the precipitous swing in emotions we all felt. One moment we were yanked from the beginning stages of grief to the heights of exultation, then seconds later plunged even lower than before, all hope crushed. The cruelty of the basketball fates was amplified by the victim they chose. They cut down the best of us.
But the last memory we have of Marcus won’t be his failure. We’ll remember him elevated above the floor on NRG Stadium, doggedly hanging in the air to get one last shot for his team. His last play encapsulates his career: determination personified. We’ll remember all the shots he made, all the times he willed the team to victory, pouring himself into every possession of every game.
Marcus gave us his all. For that we’ll never forget him.