Van Horn's Jeremy Paige was injured, but that didn't stop him from making history with the Falcons
As Jeremy Paige sits in the bleachers and watches his Van Horn basketball teammates compete in one of their Thursday Throw Down sessions this summer, his emotions are an open book.
The thigh-to-ankle brace on his right leg is there to help protect a partially torn ACL and broken right tibia that happened following a season's worth of wear and tear during the Falcons’ run to the Class 5 state final four.
But the injuries did not require surgery, and the same work ethic Paige has shown at practice and in games should allow him to return to the team following hundreds of hours of rehabilitation.
A smile comes to his face when asked if it was worth it, because the was one of the big reasons Van Horn made it to the state semifinals for the first time since 1983. With Paige and Examiner Player of the Year and all-state guard Jaden Monday providing much of the offense, it was going to take more than "a couple of injuries" to keep him off the court.
"There was no real time when I got hurt, like one game or one play, it was just an accumulation of the wear and tear from last season," Paige said. "It hurt at the end of the season, but I wasn't going to say anything.
"And I wasn't going to come out of any of the games, especially in the playoffs – that was what all of us had been dreaming about and I was going to be there, right in the middle of it."
The Falcons finished third in the state with a 20-10 record, and Paige finally received some of the accolades he missed out on during the season.
"No one really paid attention to me, and that was fine," said Paige, a 5-foot-11 guard who was an honoree on The Examiner's All-Area second team after averaging 13.7 points, four assists and 3.9 steals. "All I wanted to do was play, and help my team, and help us get to the final four. And we did it! Man, it was unbelievable."
Paige, who is still waiting for his first collegiate scholarship offer, is excited about this upcoming season.
Photo gallery:Class 5 boys basketball final four: Van Horn Falcons
"Last year was so cool because the guys on the team voted me captain, and that was huge, especially since Jaden was on the team and I was just a junior," Paige said. "I wanted to earn their respect, and I did, and that was one of the best moments of the season for me personally, but nothing topped us winning that last game at the final four and finishing third at state."
Head coach Max Sollars, who has created a basketball culture at Van Horn in a very short amount of time because of players like Paige, Monday, Sean Mitchell, Brycen Dean and Korey Messick, is Paige's most vocal supporter.
“Jeremy is the dude,” said Sollars, paying him the ultimate compliment.
If you are “the dude” in Sollars’ eyes, you’re pretty special.
"Jeremy is the best,” Monday said during the season. “We don't make the final four without Jeremy. We fed off each other out last season, and all he wants to do is win. He’s our leader, man, we’d do anything for Coach or Jeremy.”
Paige said Sollars has helped cultivate a great atmosphere for the program.
"We’re brothers, on and off the court,” said Paige, who averaged 27 points per game during the postseason. “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.”
While Paige finally attracted some attention because of his lofty offensive numbers, Sollars likes his all-around game.
"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. “We all love the kid, and while we’re losing some (senior) studs (to graduation), we have him coming back, which is awesome.”
And he knows that this year's squad is going to be his, and he can't wait.
“Man, I’m 100 percent into this team," Paige said. "A lot of my boys will be gone, but I get to come back with Coach and the underclassmen and hopefully do it all over again."