by Scott Kindberg
January 20, 2020
Road Less Traveled
Then a sophomore at Jamestown High School, he was part of a team that included Carlos Rivera, Fletcher Larson and Darin Butts, a collection of talent that led the Red Raiders to within a game of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class AA Final Four. And while I had to retreat to the archives to uncover some of the details, I’ve always known which game was the most memorable that season.
That came on Jan. 9, 2010.
United Way Tip-Off Tournament championship.
The Red Raiders vs. Newark of Section V.
“It really was an epic battle,” Jamestown coach Ben Drake said after his team’s heart-stopping, 60-59, double-overtime victory. “We’ve had some great, great games over the years, but I don’t know if I’ve been in a game that was so much back and forth.
“It wasn’t just one guy. It seemed like every trip down the floor it was a different guy from each team making a play.”
For some reason, though, the play I remember most was the one Paige made in the second extra session.
Benched the previous night for disciplinary reasons, he spent much of the second half against Newark seated next to Drake, but he made the most of his opportunity when his name was called.
“Jaysean was sitting for probably a good 20-25 minutes in real time,” Drake said that night. “All of a sudden, I thought we needed to go in a different direction. I told him, ‘I know you’ve been sitting here, but we really need you right now.'”
So with Newark leading, 59-57, with just under two minutes remaining in the second overtime, Paige made the biggest shot of his young career, picking up a loose ball and draining a 3-pointer from the wing, giving the Red Raiders a one-point lead.
“He told me after the game that as he was getting back on defense, he had tears of joy,” Drake said with a smile after the one-point victory. “He couldn’t hold it back.”
A decade later, that game could very well serve as a metaphor for Paige’s hoops odyssey, which has taken him from high schools in Jamestown and Kentucky; to junior colleges in Idaho and Missouri; to a Big 12 Conference collegiate power; and to professional teams in Germany, Great Britain, France and Maine.
He hasn’t held it back in any place he’s been.
“There’s nothing wrong with the back road,” he said.
Erie Insurance Arena sits on French Street in downtown Erie. A multisport facility, it serves as the home for the Erie Bayhawks of the NBA G League. Just shy of 2,000 fans showed up last Tuesday when Maine, an affiliate of the Boston Celtics, took the court. Many of them were there to check out 7-foot-6 Tacko Fall, the rookie who made his collegiate name at Central Florida and who has a two-way contract with the Celtics.
There was also a significant number of folks who were there to root for Paige, another Red Claws’ rookie.
No. 5 in the game program.
No. 1 in their hearts.
In a little more than 18 minutes, the 6-foot-2 point guard scored 16 points, connected on 2-of-3 shots from beyond the arc, threw down a monster dunk, and had three rebounds, two assists and one steal as Maine downed the Bayhawks, 138-126.
When the final horn sounded, all but two Red Claws players immediately exited the court. The ones who stuck around were Fall and Paige. Fall posed for photos and signed autographs before finally heading to the locker room. At the other end of the hardwood, Paige was surrounded by supporters, many of them from Jamestown, who made the 45-mile road trip to catch a glimpse of the gifted baller who first made his presence known as a 15-year-old at McElrath Gymnasium. Paige appeared to be as happy to see his fans as they were to see him.
“It was cool seeing everybody from back in high school,” Paige said.
One person who couldn’t be in Erie was Lakewood resident Ken Ricker, but when he learned of Paige’s performance, he was hardly surprised.
“Jaysean Paige has beaten the odds at every stage of basketball and life,” said Ricker, who served as Paige’s Jamestown Elite AAU coach a decade ago. “He has believed in himself and has worked for everything he has achieved.”
Two days after the Red Claws’ win against the Bayhawks, Paige was drafted seventh overall in the first round by Indios DeMayaguez, a team in the Baloncesto Superior Nacional. The Indios franchise, located in western Puerto Rico, first entered the league, according to Wikipedia, in 1956, and Mayaguez has been its home city for all but five of the team’s active seasons.
“I report after the (NBA G League) season,” Paige said. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s another chapter.”
The figurative book he has authored is pretty incredible.
To get to the G League and, eventually, to Puerto Rico, Paige has blazed his own trail.
After averaging 26 points and leading the Red Raiders to a berth in the New York Public High School Athletic Association Class AA championship game in 2011, he moved to Hazard, Kentucky and averaged 21 points per game at Perry County High School. Upon his graduation, he landed at the College of Southern Idaho for a year, averaging 13.6 points; transferred to Moberly (Missouri) Area Community College as a sophomore where he averaged 21 points; and then it was on to West Virginia University.
Under Coach Bob Huggins, Paige went from averaging 5.6 points per game as a junior to 14.3 points per game as a senior when he was the recipient of the Big 12 Conference Sixth Man of the Year. Highlights of that season included Paige scoring a career-high 34 points against Iowa State and having 26 points, five steals and four rebounds when the Mountaineers upset top-ranked Kansas.
Paige went undrafted by the NBA, but he didn’t hesitate to seize opportunities overseas, highlighted by his performance in the British Basketball League during the 2017-18 campaign where he averaged a league-best 22.6 points, while finishing among the leaders in several other statistical categories, including: field goals made (first); 2-point field goals made (second); 3-point field goals made (third); steals per game (second); and assists per game (second).
Two years later, he’s still got game.
And he’s only 25.
The number of outstanding basketball players that Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties has produced in my nearly 37 years at The Post-Journal is prodigious. But judging from what Paige has done since he finished high school in 2012, he immediately jumps to the head of the class, because no one from this neck of the woods has ever excelled in both Division I college hoops and in the professional ranks quite like he has.
And there’s no end in sight.
Ultimately, Paige’s successful globetrotting as he pursues his round-ball dreams is only a part of his story. The greeting he received in Erie last week was, in fact, similar to the reaction I witnessed four years earlier when I attended a West Virginia game in Morgantown. After the Mountaineers defeated TCU at the WVU Coliseum, Ricker and I met Paige and together we shared an elevator ride to the arena’s concourse. When the doors opened, Paige was greeted by dozens of children, who were waiting for an autograph.
Paige happily signed every request.
Once we left the arena, he gave Ricker and I a tour of the team’s practice facility and then we found a place to get a bite to eat. When we walked in the door of a Mexican restaurant, the patrons, upon realizing it was Paige in their midst, gave him quite an ovation.
It was another reminder of Paige’s remarkable journey.
You’re right, young man, there is nothing wrong at all with taking the road less traveled.