J.D. Paige leaves lasting legacy in his final season as a Ram

Eddie Herz

For the most part, saying goodbye is never easy. When you have grown especially close to someone over an extended period, uttering a farewell is all the more difficult.

In addition to gearing up for the 2019 Mountain West Tournament, Colorado State basketball players and coaches will soon have to muster up the courage to exchange adieus with redshirt senior J.D. Paige.

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Parting ways with the three-year starting guard will be an emotional moment for everyone in the program. Paige will have a lasting legacy at CSU, which will make the transition even harder to accept.

“That is one of my best friends,” center Nico Carvacho said. “He just bought in every single day and got better every single year. We’ve gone through a lot, and he stuck with it…. We’ve gone through everything, every single day, being with each other. It is definitely going to be weird.”

A man shoots a basketball
J.D. Paige (22) tries for a three-point shot during the first half of the game against the Razorbacks. During the game Dec. 5, he would end up scoring 16 points, tying Kendle Moore for total points on the day. (Josh Schroeder | Collegian)

Paige’s five-year tenure in Fort Collins feels much longer to Rams’ fans. After all, the program has endured a lot since Paige began representing the green and gold.

The guard was a wide-eyed, true freshman during the infamous 2014-15 season, in which the six-loss Rams surprisingly didn’t receive an invite to the NCAA Tournament. Paige scored a combined 25 points the following year as a redshirt freshman in CSU’s Mountain West Tournament run, marking the end of the Antwan Scott and Joe De Ciman eras.

Paige became a difference-maker and a household name to CSU fans from then on. He was a focal point in the 2016-2017 Rams’ success, as CSU accumulated 24 wins despite bringing only a seven-man rotation to the table most of the year.

The senior averaged more than 32 minutes per game over the past three seasons, as Colorado State provided Paige with the opportunity to mature as a player and work through his issues on the court. All of which the guard expresses extreme gratitude for.

“All I can say is I’ve had my struggles through the years, but I persevered and just kept fighting. I’m just thankful for the opportunity that I got to play college basketball and just happy with the way I’m leaving.” J.D. Paige

The Colorado native bought in and gave everything to the program regardless of the circumstance. No matter the situation, Paige does everything in his power to put the Rams in a positive light and always exerts maximum effort on the court.

That says a lot considering Paige was unwillingly placed in a position of adjustment when CSU implemented a new coaching staff before this season. Instead of complaining, or even transferring as some players did, the guard kept his head down and kept working like he always has.

The senior utilized an even-tempered mindset when he first arrived in Fort Collins and still does so to this day. Nothing has gotten in the way of Paige’s “bend but don’t break” mentality, allowing him to progress consistently.

“What I struggled with when I came my first year was really just trying to find my identity as a defensive player and things like that,” Paige said. “And finding ways that I could impact the team. But, once I got that down, everything was fine…. You just have to be patient. Everything takes time.”

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In more ways than others, Paige’s legacy will live on, and his presence will continue to fill Moby Arena because of his hard-working demeanor. The way he is playing lately will also make it hard to forget the guard’s impact.

Besides his yearly advancements, Paige has noticeably upped his game in the past few weeks. The senior is most certainly on the right track toward concluding his collegiate career with a bang, elevating the Rams’ success in the process.

“He has been through a lot since he has gotten here, and I think it is a testament to him really buying into the program,” Assistant Coach Ali Farokhmanesh said. “You can see in the last two, three weeks he has grown so much and our team has done the same thing. It has been on the same trajectory that he has been on. I think that is attributed to him…. Our team has been following along with him.”

Paige has evolved every facet of his game since first stepping foot in Moby Arena. Every one of his 100-plus games wearing a CSU uniform contributes to his maturation as both a player and individual.

J.D. Paige celebrates after a good play during the game at Moby March 8. The Rams fell to the top ranked Aggies 100-96. (Ashley Potts | Collegian)

Guiding the Rams to a postseason run would appropriately provide the full circle of progression for Paige, while also capping his career on a high note.

However, Paige has already done more than enough to demonstrate how his final season was his best. This applies to his individual effectiveness as well as his ability to improve teammates by leading and mentoring them.

The guard is averaging career-bests in both points (15.4) and assists per game (three). Behind the scenes, Paige is succeeding more than ever at trickling down his strong suits to the rest of the team.

“You ask anybody, J.D. is probably one of the smartest guys on our team,” Farokhmanesh said. “He sees things really well, knows the game. I think that is what we really challenged him with throughout the year… and that is the biggest thing he has taken off with. He has such a high basketball IQ; now he is using it to help others.”

Currently, the senior ranks sixth in program history with 122 games played, fourth with 3,432 minutes on the court and 15th with 1,169 career points.

The senior’s place in CSU record books backs the notion of Paige going down as a Ram legend. Carvacho, who also will leave CSU in a similar fashion, noted how Paige “definitely should be considered a staple” of the program.

J.D. Paige celebrates following a 72-63 victory over Colorado Saturday. (Javon Harris | Collegian)
J.D. Paige celebrates following a 72-63 victory over Colorado Saturday. (Javon Harris | Collegian)

Plenty of performances come to mind when Paige reflects on the most memorable moments from his collegiate tenure. The guard’s go-ahead layup with 11 seconds remaining against UNLV in 2016 or his career-best 29 points against Utah State this season put his ability to take over a game into fruition.

Instead of pointing out specific games in an attempt to receive proper recognition, the senior asks to be remembered as a dedicated player who deployed all willpower in developing CSU basketball. If that makes him a legend, so be it. As long as CSU fans recall how much he cared, Paige is content.

“I just want to be remembered as a guy that was caring and giving to the community,” Paige said. “Also one that cared about the fans and cared about winning.”

Eddie Herz can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @Eddie_Herz.