How Michigan State-North Carolina is more than just a matchup on the hardwood for a special father-son duo

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MSU Athletics/Matthew Mitchell

Few individuals in the college basketball world are fortunate enough to experience what Michigan State assistant coach Doug Wojcik, his son, North Carolina guard Paxson Wojcik, and their surrounding family had the opportunity to on Selection Sunday. 

“Our family group chat blew up, and everyone was going back and forth and laughing. We were shocked,” Paxson said. “I mean, we knew there was a really good chance of it happening just seeing the bracketology and mock brackets. We thought it was really cool. Definitely special to see both our teams pop up on Selection Sunday.”

On March 17, the official March Madness bracket was released, with Doug and No. 9 seed Michigan State being matched up against Mississippi State in the first round. Paxson and North Carolina got slotted as the No. 1 seed in the West Region alongside the Spartans. 

And after Thursday, when each team notched a first-round victory, the father-son duo officially will face off against each other in the Round of 32. 

“I think that it’s been a weird kind of last 24 hours…Not trying to share too much insider information, we’ve kept it pretty secretive,” Paxson said. 

Doug and Paxson have had a long, compelling journey to where they are now. Paxson’s path to North Carolina took hard-work and countless hours of training. He began his college career at Loyola University Chicago, where he spent two seasons before transferring to Brown University, where he spent another two seasons. 

Last season, on Dec. 10, 2022, Doug and Paxson had the opportunity to play against each other for the first time, when Paxson and the Brown Bears traveled to East Lansing for a non-conference matchup with the Spartans. 

“[MSU] played Brown last year where [Doug’s] son was and that was an emotional time,” Izzo said. “How does it get any more emotional?”

Following his 2022-2023 season at Brown, Paxson put his name into the NCAA transfer portal. On Mar. 27, he committed to North Carolina for his fifth season of college basketball. 

Paxson briefly considered Michigan State as a landing spot before settling on North Carolina.

“I definitely thought about [transferring to Michigan State], you know being close to coach Izzo and with my father obviously. I kind of decided I wanted to do my own thing,” Paxson said. “Obviously North Carolina has been a dream come true for me and such a great experience. [MSU] was a brief thought but not too serious.”

For his father, the idea of coaching his son in college was never at the forefront.

“I didn’t ever want it to be, ‘Oh, he’s at Michigan State because of his father. He’s at North Carolina because of Paxson Wojcik,’” Doug said.  

To Paxson, his journey thus far in his basketball career was made possible by the ultimate sacrifices from his father. 

“Obviously it’s really tough for a basketball family to see each other play. Man, I give him a lot of credit. Even going back to my high school days when I was at boarding school at La Lumiere, he would take long drives and find ways to travel. Leave right after practice, leave before film just to see me as many times as he could,” Paxson said. “It was always hard on him when he would miss games, but he put in the effort and caught red-eye flights. He definitely tries to do it as much as he can and I appreciate the effort.”

After graduating from the United States Naval Academy, Doug had multiple stints as an assistant coach before finding his way to East Lansing, a decision that created lifelong relationships for both Doug and Paxson.

While Doug was at Michigan State, Paxson attended summer camps in East Lansing and grew a friendship with Steven Izzo, Tom Izzo’s son and fifth-year guard on the Michigan State basketball team.

“I used to go to summer camp as a little kid at Michigan State. When they were in the Final Four’s and stuff, I would always go because my dad would go to the Final Four’s as most coaches do. I would hang out with Steven Izzo, and coach Izzo would let us go to their team room…I have a lot of great memories of that,” Paxson said. 

After years pursuing other opportunities, Doug found his way back to Michigan State in 2018, setting up this illustrious moment with his son.

And now, as the Round of 32 matchup between the Spartans and the Tar Heels inches closer, the privilege of being on this stage is a dream come true, and Tom Izzo recognizes that better than anyone. 

“What a privilege,” Izzo said. “What a privilege to have your son at a program like he’s got him at. What a privilege for him to be working at a program he’s working at.”

So, as 5:30 pm approaches, and the two programs run out of the tunnel to see the thousands of fans beaming down at them, two individuals on the court will be experiencing more than just a basketball game. The two teams will compete at the highest level, sure. But for Doug and Paxson, it will be a lifelong memory that will waver through their minds for years to come. 

“It’s really more of a proud moment that he can even be playing on this stage. I’m fortunate that I’m even coaching on this stage,” Doug said. “I just think that it’s an exciting moment that I’m fortunate to have and grateful to have, and every father would love to have.”

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