Season Preview: Marcus Paige

There's a lot hanging over Marcus Paige's head as he enters his senior season. Eight straight state tournaments. Eight consecutive state final fours. Three titles in the last eight years.

It's a lot of pressure.

Coming off an undefeated, state championship season in 2011, Paige is the only returning starter for Linn-Mar. Obviously he'll have teammates to help him out, but it's not quite that simple. This is his team and much of its success falls squarely on his shoulders.

"Most of our returning players don't have any experience but I still think we should be all right," said Paige, who will sign his Letter of Intent next week to officially become a North Carolina Tar Heel. "It'll be a little bit different for most of us and I'll probably have to take more of a role offensively but I think we should be fine."

Streaks are a great thing. They're a sign of success. But with streaks come expectations. More than wanting to win for their own sake, Paige and Co. don't want to be the team that makes the wrong kind of history. They've set their goals realistic at first and will raise the stakes as the season progresses.

"We definitely want to make it back to the state tournament," Paige said. "Our team has been there eight years in a row so we don't want to break the streak or anything. After that, anything can happen. So our goal is to just make it back to states."

The Lions won't be small necessarily but they will be a little shorter and less physically imposing that last season. As a result, they'll need to get out in transition more than they have in the past. One of Paige's biggest strengths is getting his long arms out in passing lanes and creating possessions for his team. He said his defense will be even more important for this coming season.

"Any time you can get easy baskets, you'll take them," Paige said. "That's definitely something I try to do and our team will probably try to do this year."

Paige led Linn-Mar in scoring with 18 points per game last season but he'll need to increase his offensive role even more this winter. To prepare for his increased scoring load, Paige has focused on improving his strength, shooting range and handle – but that's only part of it. Paige will need to adjust from his pass-first, natural point guard mentality, and be a little more selfish.

Head coach Chris Robertson said he's not worried about his point guard's production however. Perhaps Paige's best attribute is his understanding of the game and that should help him adjust. Couple that with the fact he was such an efficient scorer last season -- shooting almost 50 percent from three-point range -- and Robertson expects Paige to be even more impressive this season.

"I think people in our league who have questioned how good he is are going to find out just how good he really is," Robertson said. "This is my 15th year coaching and seventh year as the head coach here. I haven't seen a better point guard and maybe (only) Harrison Barnes and maybe one or two others who are in the same league as him. I think he's pretty special."

Despite his team's inexperience, Robertson expects Linn-Mar to be ranked in the Top 5 of the state rankings this season. The Lions will quickly find out where they stand as they play a front-loaded schedule with several matchups against state contenders.

"Right out of the gate we're going to get a good test with another team in the state that's pretty good (in Des Moines Waukee)," Robertson said. "Our first two conference games are also probably with the two best teams in the league."

In addition to his team goals, Paige singled out some personal goals for this season. He said he's used these benchmarks as fuel during workouts.

"I want to be the Gatorade state player of the year and stuff like that," Paige said. "I just use that as motivation to have a great year. Also, I want to be a McDonald's All-American. If those things happen, I'll look back on it as a pretty good year. Even if that doesn't happen, I still think leading my team to a state tournament would be a good year, too."

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