Every college basketball player wants to show up on campus and play big minutes right away.
But that isn’t always how it works. You have to earn every bit of tick you get for a Division I basketball program.
Just ask CSU guard JD Paige, who was redshirted last season. The former Rangeview High School star out of Aurora did not expect to sit out for a year when he arrived in Fort Collins.
“It was a shocker,” Paige said of being asked to redshirt last year.
Of course, there were a few guys ahead of him by the names of Daniel Bejarano, Stanton Kidd and Gian Clavell, the guys who led the Rams to a program record 27 wins alongside J.J. Avila last season.
“Stuff happens and you have to embrace it,” Paige added. “The main thing was just accepting what happened and moving on from it.”
This season is a little different. Not only has Paige played in all 26 games, averaging 16.5 minutes per game this year in his redshirt freshman season, but a true freshman in Prentiss Nixon has risen alongside him, receiving 15.6 minutes per game. In fact, Nixon has also started five games, as he has proven to be a solid ball handler and an accurate shooter, hitting 26 of 62 3-point attempts on the year for a 42 percent clip.
“Prentiss, we just didn’t know what we had with him,” senior forward Tiel Daniels said. “He injured his foot when he first got here, so we didn’t know if he was going to redshirt or not. And then out of nowhere he comes in and plays hard, he’s scrappy, he doesn’t back down from anybody and he can shoot the ball.”
Daniels has nothing but optimism for Paige’s potential growth over the next three years, too.
“We knew what Jeremiah was,” Daniels said. “Coach wants him to play the way he needs to play, so sometimes that’s why he wasn’t in games. When he finally bought in, he was in the games and helping us out.”
Helping out might be an understatement. Since Clavell was declared out for this season with injuries, Paige has stepped up in a big way in some late-game situations.
First, against UNLV in Moby Arena on Jan. 6, Paige scored seven points in the final 48 seconds en route to a comeback win. The next game at San Jose State on Jan. 9, Paige made a steal at the last second of regulation and layed it in at the buzzer to force overtime, leading to a CSU win.
“We definitely knew what we had with him,” Daniels said of Paige. “You know, he’s long, he’s athletic, he can shoot the ball, he’s real loose with it and has a real nasty crossover. The kid can just play.”
Essentially, the future looks bright for the Rams’ backcourt. Head coach Larry Eustachy also has high hopes for 6-foot-8 sophomore forward Kimani Jackson to become more formidable in the frontcourt. The junior college transfer averages only 9.4 minutes per game this season.
“Kimani is just a sophomore,” Eustachy said before CSU faced Wyoming earlier this season. “If he were on Wyoming’s team he’d probably be playing 25 minutes a game, but Tiel is playing so well.”
Though Eustachy-coached teams often feature many junior college transfers Rams fans only get to watch for a year or two, they will be able to track Paige and Nixon for the next three, as well as this year’s redshirts Anthony Bonner and 6-foot-10 center Nico Carvacho for the next four, granted they all stay in the program.
“You can see, you’re either a good player or you’re not a very good player,” Eustachy said late last month. “You can see that these are good players. Even the guys you can’t see that are redshirting are good players, and they might have helped us win a game or two more this year. There’s a real bright light there with a couple of freshmen. I really like where we’re at. In a long, roundabout way, I like the youth, the talent of the youth. Equally the mental makeup of the youth, they’re tough kids.”
CSU fans should be excited to finally watch some talented freshmen enter the program and develop over their full college careers.
Collegian Sports Reporter Sam Lounsberry can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @samlounz.