Season Wrap-Up: Marcus Paige

Down one point with 14 seconds left, most high school coaches would call a time out and draw up a play for the final basket. But Linn Mar coach Chris Robertson? He just turned things over to Marcus Paige and watched.

Robertson isn't the first person to call his point guard a coach on the floor, but he backs it up more than most. When his team was on the verge of losing to Dubuque Senior in the state playoffs last month, Robertson deferred to his senior and trusted him to make the right decision.

"Marcus was not even to half court and guys were flying at him," Robertson said. "He just threw a one-handed baseball pass on a line and (Andy Henry) caught it and put it in with three seconds left."

That's how it was most of the year with Paige. Robertson was able to take a hands-off approach because -- just like in the 51-50 win over Dubuque Senior -- Paige was going to make the right decision nine times out of 10.

As the lone returning contributor from last year's team, Paige carried an inexperienced group to a 20-6 season and an appearance in the state semifinals this year. Linn Mar didn't defend its state title but the season was a success for Paige by any measure – both individually and as a team.

"He just had an impressive career and an impressive senior season," Robertson said. "I would say, in a lot of ways, we probably overachieved what was expected out of us and I think a lot of that fell on Marcus this year."

Paige, who usually is a pass first point guard, shouldered the scoring load for Linn Mar. He was rarely subbed out of games and improved his scoring average from 17.7 to 28.1 points. His 733 points as a senior moved him into first place on the all-time Linn Mar career scoring list, passing former University of Wisconsin guard Jason Bohannon.

Robertson said Paige handled the transition from a passer to scorer seamlessly. The two had a conversation about it before the season and didn't address it again. Paige understood what was needed of him and made the necessary adjustments to his game.

Paige was a versatile and dynamic scorer, according to Robertson. He was a dangerous three-point shooter -- making 44 percent of his shots beyond the arc despite nearly doubling his attempts -- and an effective penetrator. If opponents played him too close, he attacked the rim and got to the line.

Considering his background as a distributor, Paige's accomplishments as a scorer this season were rather startling.

In his 49-point performance against CR Kennedy in the state playoffs, Paige scored 21 of his team's first 24 points then sparked a rally from nine down in the final 26 seconds to tie the game. Linn Mar eventually won in double overtime, 83-77.

In a 68-67 win over CR Prairie in January, Paige scored 46 points, made 15 of 22 field goals and knocked down six of nine from beyond the arc.

And with little experience surrounding him, Paige was often the only scoring option, meaning he faced the other team's best defender every play, every night.

"He's not a scorer -- he's a point guard," Robertson said. "But to go through his senior year and score 28 points a game, he did everything in his power."

Because Paige has such a great basketball IQ, Robertson was able to trust him taking a high volume of shots. A lot of coaches would be crazy to give their point guard a license to shoot but Paige had a great sense for situations.

Even if he was scoring in the 40s, Paige was still trying to get his teammates involved and knew what his coach wanted before he had to say it. If a player was hot, Paige knew to run the sets that would get him the ball until he cooled off.

"He's been that way since he was a freshman here. He started as a 140-pound ninth grader and just right away you could see that he understood the game so well," Robertson said. "He's just thinking ahead all the time. ‘When do we push? When do we pull back? When do we run a set?' As he progressed through his career, I didn't have to say much to him."

While there are plenty of highlights from Paige's career, Robertson said what he'll remember most is his relationship with the point guard and the way Paige handled his assent into basketball stardom.

"It's been a media explosion. He's signing autographs constantly. He always takes the time to do that," Robertson said. "We lost the semifinal game and as we're walking (off the floor) there were some little boys with North Carolina stuff on and they were yelling ... He stopped, signed all their stuff and ran off the floor."

After playing in the McDonald's All-American game last week, Paige suffered a stress fracture in his left foot, which will sideline him for at least the next month. That forced him to watch the USA Basketball Hoop Summit from the bench and will keep him out of next weekend's Jordan Brand Classic. Rehabbing the injury, followed by strength and conditioning, are expected to fill Paige's days between now and his June enrollment in Chapel Hill.

Robertson was in Chicago for the McDonald's All-American game and said the atmosphere has Paige even more pumped about his future.

"He told me after the McDonald's game that it really hit home and that he's excited to get down to Carolina and play," Robertson said.

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