MARION – If it wasn’t hoops, what would it have been, Marcus Paige?
“Probably baseball,” the recent Linn-Mar graduate said. “I played baseball all the way up through seventh grade. I was pretty good, I enjoyed it. I was a lefty, so I didn’t get to play any of the infield, other than first. Center field. Center field was my spot.”
Now batting for the Chicago Cubs, number 15, center fielder Marcus Paige. Yeah, that was never going to happen.
Baseball took up way too much of his time during the summer. There were basketball camps to attend, tournaments to play, no-look passes to make, 3-pointers and layups to hit.
Basketball always has been Paige’s passion, and the Paiges’ passion. Ellis and Sherryl Paige played hoops at Mount Mercy College and passed along their love of the sport to their children: Marcus and his older sister, Morgan.
Sherryl coached Morgan at Marion High School, in fact. She averaged 10 points as a sophomore for the Wisconsin Badgers this past season.
Marcus … well, everyone knows about Marcus. His scholastic resume was impeccable: a four-year starter at point guard, the Metro’s all-time leading scorer, a McDonald’s All-American, a top 20 recruit nationally who is headed to North Carolina.
Now add one more thing – 2012 Gazette Male Athlete of the Year.
“I’ve been able to use basketball to have so many different experiences in my life. It’s given me a lot,” Marcus said in an interview last week, a day before he left for Chapel Hill to begin summer school and individual basketball workouts. “Before I started playing travel ball, I’d only been to like Wisconsin and Illinois as states. Now I’ve been almost through the entire country, gotten to meet a whole bunch of people that will probably be my friends the rest of my life.
“My parents have been huge. They led me into it. The last couple of years, they’ve kind of let me do my own thing, in terms of my basketball. But they’ve always kept me grounded, taught me the importance of being humble and working hard. I couldn’t have been anything close to what I am without them.”
The on-court Paige dazzles you with a silky smooth jump shot, quickness and athleticism, vision and unselfishness. He led the state in scoring this past season (28.4 points), though everyone agrees his game is more pass first.
Linn-Mar lost a ton of firepower to graduation off its 2011 Class 4A state championship team, so his extra points were needed. The Lions made it back to state a ninth consecutive year, placing fourth.
They needed one of the greatest individual performances in Metro history just to return to Des Moines. Paige scored 49 points in a double-overtime win over Cedar Rapids Kennedy, including seven in the final 19 seconds of regulation.
It’s a game that will be discussed and remembered for a long, long time. As will Paige’s career.
Is he the best player the Metro ever has produced? He won’t touch that subject.
“That’s so hard to tell,” he said. “Obviously whatever is newer is fresh in people’s minds. It kind of happens like that. I’ve tried not to pay too much attention to it or let it get to my head. I hear people talk about it. It’s interesting. But I never tried to get caught up in it.”
It has had to be difficult for Paige not to get caught up in what has become local celebrity status. Wherever he goes, he’ll get asked for his autograph, and it’s not always just kids doing the requesting.
He was eating supper with his dad recently at Pizza Ranch in Marion, when a group of young boys approached him to autograph their napkins. As he was in the buffet line.
He graciously signed, then went back to filling his plate. That’s Marcus.
“It was a little weird at first, but I don’t have a problem with it,” he said of the attention. “I’m getting used to it. It’s kind of cool to know that you’re a positive role model for a bunch of kids. Even some of the adults that kind of look to you (that way) and want your autograph. It’s kind of cool. I enjoy it.
“It was something that was kind of thrust upon me, but it hasn’t changed the way I act or anything. I’ve always tried to be a good person. I just have to make sure I keep doing that.”
He’ll keep doing it in the mighty ACC. With Kendall Marshall declaring early for the NBA draft, North Carolina’s point-guard position is his.
Here are the keys to the offense of one of college basketball’s power programs, Marcus. No worries.
Paige had surgery this spring to repair a broken bone in his foot but has declared himself healthy and ready to go.
“I think you always worry some, but I’ve got a great deal of confidence in Marcus being really good,” North Carolina Coach Roy Williams said two weeks ago during his annual summer press conference. “There’s no question we’re going to ask him to do a lot. But I think he’s really going to be a good player.”
He’s not the only one who thinks that.
“You can’t replace Kendall Marshall,” ESPN recruiting guru Dave Telep told Scout.com recently. “But you have to replace him with somebody, and in my opinion, Marcus Paige is the best replacement you can find in high school basketball.”
“I guess it comes with the territory. They’re always a national competitor and championship contender, so you’ve got to expect a lot of pressure,” Paige said. “Especially (considering) how important the point guard is in that system. There’s obviously going to be a lot of pressure on me, but I think I can handle it.”
North Carolina offered Paige a scholarship during a visit to campus about a year and a half ago, essentially ending his recruitment. Here’s a guy who grew up idolizing the Tar Heels, especially Vince Carter.
That’s the reason he wore jersey number 15 at Linn-Mar.
“There was probably never a doubt,” Paige said. “That was always my dream school. I mean, it only took me two months to decide after they offered me. I knew in my heart that it was, but I had to make sure that it was the right place and the right situation for me. There was no doubt it was.”
MARCUS PAIGE, at a glance
Name: Marcus Taylor Paige
Birthdate: September 11, 1993
Family: Father, Ellis; mother, Sherryl; sister, Morgan
High school career: Four-year starter in basketball, who helped lead Linn-Mar to finishes of first, second, third and fourth at the state tournament. The Class 4A championship came in 2011. Metro’s all-time leading career scorer with 1,700 points. Averaged 28.4 points per game this past season. Top 20 recruit nationally who was widely considered top prep point guard. Played in McDonald’s All-American Game in Chicago, first Metro prep to do so since Kennedy’s Al Lorenzen in 1984.
College plans: Will play basketball at North Carolina, where he expected to start as freshman.
Quotable: (About leaving for North Carolina last week)
“I haven’t really had a summer, but I’m ready to go. I’m nervous a little bit. But it’s a good kind of nervous. Like excited kind of nervous.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time with my friends, hanging out with them a lot. Been trying to see everyone I can. It’s definitely been a low key couple of weeks for me. Just workouts and hanging out with friends. That’s about it.”
(About Linn-Mar always being home for him)
“I’ll always try to come back. That’s one thing our guys here always do a good job of, come back and teach the new guys. It’s fun. We’re all good friends. It’s like a family. Especially open gyms. Those are the best. The college guys come up here and play.”
(About the possibility of getting tattoos, as so many hoops players do)
“I don’t think so. There’s a very, very, very slim chance I come back home with paint on my body. Mom would not be happy, I’ll tell you that much. I’d probably get kicked out of the house.”
(About favorite activities away from the court)
“I like to dance. I’m not a very good dancer, but I like to dance. Me and my sister kind of jam out sometimes. I’m definitely not a good singer. I’m not a great dancer, but I love dancing.”
(About what he’ll do if basketball doesn’t become his eventual vocation)
“I’m not really sure. Right now, I’m going into a journalism type deal. Communications. I’d like to be a college basketball analyst. I’d definitely consider (coaching). I want to do something around the game. I don’t think I’ll be able to let go of basketball for awhile. Definitely something around the game of basketball, whether that’s talking about it or coaching it or playing it. Whatever happens.”
(About the possibility of being the first Metro prep to play in the NBA)
“I think about the NBA. I try not to think too much about it. I think it’s definitely a possibility down the line. There’s still a lot of things that have to go my way, things that have to happen. A lot of work has to be put in. But I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility.”