Junior basketball team captain Jeremy Paige helps lead Falcons to state final four

Bill Althaus
The Examiner

Max Sollars enjoys mixing it up on the court with his Van Horn High School basketball team. 

In a Monday afternoon scrimmage, there’s some trash talking, a lot of team building and the type of accolades that mean more than a standing ovation following a clutch 3-pointer in a playoff game.

Following a spirited scrimmage, Sollars takes a seat in the bleachers as many of his players head to the locker room. But a few remain on the court, including one of the premier guard tandems in the metro area, Jeremy Paige and Jaden Monday.

“Jeremy is the dude,” said Sollars, paying the junior captain of his team the ultimate compliment.

If you are “the dude” in Sollars’ eyes, you’re pretty special.

Van Horn point guard Jeremy Paige (4) glides in for a layup as teammate Jaden Monday trails in Friday's 91-83 Class 5 state quarterfinal win over No. 2-ranked Mexico. Paige, who averaged 12.6 points during the regular season, has poured in 27 points per game in the postseason, including 29 against Mexico. The junior team captain is also among the metro area leaders in steals and assists.

“Jeremy is the best,” added Monday, the senior who has teamed with Paige for a sensational postseason run that has placed the Falcons (19-9) in the Class 5 state final four in Springfield.

After knocking off the No. 2-ranked Mexico Bulldogs Friday in a heart-stopping 91-83 overtime classic, the Falcons will face No. 1-ranked Cardinal Ritter of St. Louis (18-5) in the state semifinal game at 3 p.m. Thursday at JQH Arena on the Missouri State University campus.

“We’re not in the final four without Jeremy,” added Monday, the shooting guard who averages 22.5 points per game. “We feed off each other out there, and all he wants to do is win. He’s our leader, man, we’d do anything for Coach or Jeremy.”

Over the past four years, Sollars hasn’t just created a basketball culture at Van Horn, he’s developed a family of young men who would do anything for their brothers out on the court.

Van Horn guard Jeremy Paige (4) gets contact from William Chrisman defender Trey Kates as he drives to the hoop in the Class 5 District 14 championship. Paige scored 17 points in the Falcons' 61-52 win.

“We’re brothers, on and off the court,” said Paige, who took a 12.6-point scoring average into the postseason, in which he has gone off and averaged 27 points per game, dazzling in the same fashion as Monday, who scored 41 in the win over Smithville. “And that comes from Coach. He and the boys on the team paid me the ultimate compliment when they voted me the team captain. I’m a junior, and there are some great seniors on this team, but they all know I’m 100 percent into this team and 100 percent into doing anything I can to help us win games.”

More:Guard duo of Paige, Monday spark Van Horn past Ruskin in sectional

In that overtime win over Smithville, it took Monday a half to warm up. While he found his range, Paige scored 14 of his 29 points in the first quarter.

“We were just waiting for the explosion,” Paige said, referring to Monday’s dramatic scoring bursts. “It’s always coming. I was just doing my thing till it happened.

His “thing” included two early steals in the overtime period that led to a Darius Ross layup and a Paige layup.

Van Horn junior guard Jeremy Paige, center, dribbles against Mexico defenders Raef Yager (25) and Jordan Mitchell, right, in Friday's Class 5 state quarterfinal against Mexico. Paige scored 29 points as the Falcons went on to a 91-83 victory in overtime to advance to the state final four.

“The thing that makes Jeremy so cool, so important, is that he does everything – all the little things, like those steals – and all the big things people notice, like going off for 29 points,” Sollars said of Paige, who averages 3.96 assists per game and is second in the metro area with 3.96 steals per game. “We all love the kid, and while we’re losing some (senior) studs (to graduation), we have him coming back, which is awesome.”

More:Falcons stave off rival Chrisman for first playoff berth since 1995

A big smile appears on Paige’s face when asked about being a junior.

“Man, I’m 100 percent into this team and want to do all I can to help our seniors go out on top,” Paige said. “And then I get to come back and do it all over again next year. A lot of my boys will be gone, but I get to come back with Coach and the underclassmen.

“That’s cool to think about, but right now, all I’m thinking about is Thursday in Springfield.”