Marion (Iowa) Linn-Mar
Class of 2012
Paige became the first Class of 2012 prospect to commit to UNC, during the winter of his junior season. His esteem among scouts and college coaches grew steadily during the summers of 2010 and 2011, and his play continued to improve as he amassed big numbers during his high school senior year.
He deservedly earned a spot in the McDonald's All-American Game and projects as one of the nation's top four point guards from the senior class.
The first descriptions of Paige's game nearly always include his court generalship. He understands innately how to operate halfcourt offense, spearhead transition situations, distribute to the hot player, and when to seek his own offense. He's a talented dribbler who no longer can be harassed effectively by defenders, and his passing is among the very best in the class. Not only does he deliver the ball with precision to players at angles other guards don't see, he actively creates those opportunities using his dribble and making frequent eye contact with teammates. His assists tend to be less spectacular than those of some other guards, as he favors the easy play over the spectacular one.
Decision-making in general ranks as one of Paige's primary strengths. He may not generate a lot of eye-catching action, but he makes far fewer bad plays than most high school point guards. While theoretically those other guards will hone the mental aspect of their craft in college, some players never truly absorb the coaching lessons they receive and continue to make mistakes far along in their careers. Paige, on the other hand, already is equipped with the tactical knowledge of a college upperclassman.
Part of the package is an impressive set of intangibles. Paige's unflappable competitive style shines both on and off the court. The truth is that some of his point guard peers have viewed him as a target — not only is he a Carolina signee, he doesn't have the flash or explosive athleticism that tends to impress other players — and some went so far as to call him out publicly. Paige handled those taunts with grace and good humor, qualities that will serve him well in the pressure cooker of elite college hoops.
On the court, Paige doesn't get rattled by the action in front of him and tends to iron out emotional volatility in teammates. He isn't a shouter but leads by way of a calm, quiet style. He may not be the kind of player to rile up the home crowd, but chances are his personality will help the team in hostile road environments.
Defensively, Paige is among the better guards in the class. He uses quick lateral feet to stop penetration more often than not, and he's especially gifted at anticipating passes and uses his hands to reap steals. Steals and deflections were the most consistent aspect of his game on the travel circuit.
That brings us to scoring. Paige isn't a great shooter but has a nice, southpaw stroke that shouldn't require much mechanical tinkering. He's comfortable from behind the three-point stripe and is even more accurate taking one or two dribbles and pulling up from medium-range. He makes those shots going left or right and, as always, takes them within the flow of the offense. He also is a quick driver when he has a step or two in advance to gain momentum, and he finishes fairly well using scoops and reverses in traffic. His floater in the paint isn't consistent yet but shows promise as well.
Paige also took on a more scoring-heavy role during his senior season, averaging more than 28 points per game — 10 more than one season earlier. While he'll obviously need time adjusting to college competition, his experience as the primary scorer should help him strike a balance between shooting and passing at UNC.
The obvious starting point here is his lack of strength. Paige is very thin and isn't tall enough to compensate for his lack of bulk, making him vulnerable to power guards on both ends of the court. He likely is 20 pounds away from being at the ideal size to defend at the ACC level, something that must be an area of focus for him prior to his enrollment in Chapel Hill.
Paige's athleticism is widely remarked and disputed. As mentioned, he's quick with a running start but typically doesn't catch and explode by defenders from a standing position. He also eats shots occasionally when he attempts to finish underhanded against shotblockers.
His jump shot largely will determine how valuable he becomes as a scorer for UNC. He hasn't been consistent and, perhaps for that reason, at times has neglected his own offense in favor of setting up others. Again, his senior year scoring responsibilities may prove extremely vital in that regard.
In terms of competitive style, he's more cool than hot, and — as is the case for most high school prospects — ramping up his intensity in college will be key.
Meanwhile, Paige's development hit a roadblock when he suffered a stress fracture in his foot this spring. He should be able to participate in the informal summer activities upon enrollment and be completely healthy well in advance of the opening of the 2012-13 season, however.
Paige should become a highly productive four-year player. Though he could have benefited from a year or two to develop physically and learn under Kendall Marshall, Marshall's early departure for the NBA will force Paige to play a big role early.
Though some disagree, I view him as a legitimate starter by his sophomore season and believe he'll bring elements of both Marshall and Derrick Phelps, though he isn't quite as effective as either in terms of their greatest strengths. He's a very balanced player with the potential to be a scoring weapon, depending largely upon how long it takes for him to become a consistent jump shooter.
When evaluating Paige as a recruit, we also have to consider the context under which he was offered. Roy Williams certainly had interest from a large number of point guards, but only Paige and Houston floor general L.J. Rose received scholarship offers. Both the timing of the offer (December of his junior year) and the recruitment were handled expertly, and UNC should enjoy the dividends over the next several seasons.
Rob provides basketball recruiting coverage for InsideCarolina.com, including reporting from events throughout the country. Rob is editor of the national basketball recruiting website PrepStars.com and the print magazine Recruiter's Handbook. He also covers UNC basketball games for the Independent Weekly and writes a freelance column for USAToday.com. He is a member of the Naismith committee honoring the nation's best high school player and votes in the McDonald's All-American Game.