Johnson, Paige fight to gain strength

This offseason, the North Carolina men’s basketball team has gotten bigger — and it’s not solely due to an increased number of forwards on the roster.

It’s also due in part to weight gained by returning players, particularly sophomores Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige.

While both players came to UNC undersized as freshmen, each has gained more than 10 pounds so far this summer to increase strength and durability.

But strength and conditioning coordinator Jonas Sahratian said it’s been anything but easy.

“(Dieting) can be up to 80 percent of the battle, and that’s one of the biggest things we fight with,” Sahratian said.

“With Brice, sometimes I’m banging my head against the wall like, ‘Dude, I’m trying to get you to eat so you can have some durability and not get pushed around.’”

For Johnson and Paige, eating enough food to gain the weight they need to be more productive has been difficult.

Paige said he frequently finds himself needing to eat food toward the end of the day when he’s not even hungry. At that point, he said, he doesn’t want anything to do with food anymore.

“Every time I tell him what I ate he’s like, ‘Not good enough,’” Paige said.

And with Sahratian expecting his players to eat not only a large quantity of food, but also high-quality foods, the challenge of gaining weight gets even bigger.

“I try to eat as much as Jonas tells me to, but it’s hard sometimes,” Johnson said.

“Food is very expensive these days.”

Former Tar Heel Marvin Williams, who left for the NBA after winning the national championship in 2005, said he sympathizes with Johnson and Paige’s situation. As a freshman at UNC, he was close to the same size as Johnson, and it took him an entire year to understand the importance of nutrition.

Before Sahratian’s guidance, Williams would eat one or two meals a day — frequently supplemented by Pop-Tarts and candy — instead of the six meals and wholesome foods Sahratian preached.

“I used to piss him off so bad. I understand, now that I’m older, (I) can’t eat those types of things,” Williams said. “It’s kind of funny to hear him yell at Brice sometimes or yell at Marcus.

“Because he was saying those same exact things to me. He’s right.”

Williams said having an unlimited meal plan is helpful for people like Paige and Johnson, along with spending as much time in the gym as possible.

UNC legend Tyler Hansbrough said Sahratian helps players find healthy foods — even in the dining hall.

“Jonas understands that as a college kid you’re always on the go and that it’s tough to get good nutrition and meals,” Hansbrough said. “I used to eat at Rams Head all the time, and he used to tell me certain foods to eat (there).”

Though Paige and Johnson weigh about 170 and 200 pounds respectively, they’re both looking to gain 5 to 10 more pounds before the start of the season.

But their main goal is to become more effective on the court — not just to gain weight.

“(175 pounds is) not like a weight that if I don’t get I’m going to be disappointed with,” Paige said. “It’s just kind of a random number to have something to look forward to.”

Sahratian said his philosophy is to make players faster, more powerful and more explosive.

Sometimes that requires gaining weight, he said — but not always.

“I’m not really focused on playing at a certain weight or anything,” Paige said.

“I just want to be able to be strong.”

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