Page's journey leads him home

LaShay Page has spent the last four years outside of the state of South Carolina for the first time in his life. When he was given the opportunity to come back home and play in front of family and friends for his final season, he was quick to jump on it.

Rarely does a first-year player command the respect to become a team leader. Rarely do you see a guy like LaShay Page. Page, a fifth-year senior, transferred to South Carolina after spending the last two seasons at Southern Miss. He is the only player on the roster that has NCAA Tournament appearance, helping lead the Golden Eagles there last season.

"The first thing I did when I came in I worked hard to have the guy's respect," Page said in a recent interview. "If I don't have their respect they won't listen to me. The first thing I did was earn their respect and they respect me on and off the basketball court. They embraced me trying to help them on and off the basketball court, despite me only being here for two months. I appreciate those guys for that and that are willing to listen to an older guy that has been around and has played in the NCAA Tournament. They listen and embrace everything I have to say and I'm excited to do more of that as the season goes along."

Page's long, eventful college basketball career has finally come full circle. The Latta native will return to his home state to play his final season at South Carolina. In 2008 Page was recruited by the likes of Florida, Kentucky, Wake Forrest, Clemson, and Carolina before being suspended late in his senior season by violating school policy. Page did not meet NCAA standards to sign with any of the colleges that recruited him and he was forced to go the Junior College route, heading to Florida and enrolling at Chipola College. After spending two season at Chipola, Page signed with Southern Miss and head coach Larry Eustachy, where he spent the next two years. Eustachy left Southern Miss following an NCAA Tournament appearance last season to go to Colorado State and Page decided he wanted to leave. Having already graduated Page was able to transfer back home to Columbia.

"The best part is having the opportunity to play in front of family and have friends from high school come down enjoying seeing my last year," Page said. "After being at Southern Miss and Chipola College my first four years, just having an opportunity to come back and play in front of fans, family and friends is great."

Talking with Page you get a sense that he is a big family man. He speaks highly of his family and enjoys being around them. After spending the last four years of his life in Florida and Mississippi, seeing family was rare and having family in attendance to watch him play was impossible. For a young man that struggled in his personal life, being away from home was necessary to allow him to grow as a man both on and off the court.

"I felt like I needed to be off a little bit and find my way," Page said. "It helped me grow on the basketball court, but most importantly off the basketball court. Having to live away from home was a tough adjustment. Coach Eustachy was a great guy and just helping me become a man and accept responsibility would be the biggest thing about being away."

2012 has been a difficult year for Page and his family. Page's mother passed away in February, his coach left to take on another job, and Page began to realize that his daughter had just one more year to have an opportunity to see her father play college basketball. All of that played important roles on Page's decision to come closer to home.

"I like Larry and his staff and I love everything he's done for me, but once they left and my mom passed I had to sit down and do some thinking to myself that I wanted my family to see me play my final year before another tragedy happens," Page said. "I like to look at my family as I'm kind of that guy for them. When I'm home they glow to have me in their presence so it's something that I did, not only for me, but for my family and my little girl. To see her have a chance to see my play my final year of college basketball, we'll never get that back. My decision to come here was all of that."

Page does not know if he would have come to South Carolina under former head coach Darrin Horn, but the hiring of Frank Martin certainly helped his decision. Page's Southern Miss career ended with a 70-64 loss to Martin's Kansas State team a year ago. Page remembers from that game that the Golden Eagle players had to come out to halfcourt to begin the offense because of the pressure. Eustachy's game plan was similar to Martin's so Page knew it was going to be a smooth transition.

"They're hard-nosed coaches that preach offensive and defensive rebounding and defending," Page said. "I just feel like both coaches, especially Coach Martin, get the fullest extent out of his players. He's not going to let you settle. He's the type of coach that is going to make you bring it every day."

After being one of the leaders of the Southern Miss basketball program last season, Page was going to be sure he would be seen as one of the leaders when he came to Columbia. That is why it was key for him to come in and earn the respect of his teammates right away.

"Me being a leader last year at Southern Miss and coming into South Carolina I feel like it's no different," Page said. "Different players and a different staff, but the same me. My leadership leading the younger guys I look forward to that. Freshmen don't really know what it takes to be an everyday guy, and helping the coaches instill that in the younger players I look forward to that every day."

South Carolina is not expected to contend for an SEC Championship or even an NCAA Tournament bid, but they could conceivably win enough non-conference games to earn a bid into the NIT. That would be an over-achievement for a team that finished at the bottom of the SEC last season and picked to finish near the bottom against this season. Page sees a South Carolina team that will surprise some people this year.

"I see a group of talented guys," Page said. "I don't know much about the last staff, but I can tell you about this staff; talented guys plus Frank Martin getting the full extent out of these guys to play hard every possession, I think a lot of people will be surprised."

When the 2012-13 season officially kicks off on November 11th against Milwaukee when Page makes his debut after sitting out of the exhibition with an injury. With his family and daughter in attendance for the season opener, Page will step out onto the court for the final season. Now a grown man, his journey home will be finished.

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