Okaw Valley girls' basketball

Paige Robinson, Natalie Jeffers, Hope Ruppert and Bella Benning are the returning letter winners for Okaw Valley, who is to open its season Monday at home against Shelbyville. Robinson is to play basketball at Drury University next year and is undecided on a major.

BETHANY — Paige Robinson, a 5-10 senior guard for Okaw Valley, is to continue her basketball playing days at Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Robinson signed a National Letter of Intent Friday in front of her family, team, coaches and students.

"When I got on the campus for the first visit, I felt a family atmosphere there," said Robinson, the daughter of Brett and Lori Robinson. "I grew a strong relationship with the coaches even before I got on campus and that was really cool. Getting on campus I was surrounded with the players and it felt like a family atmosphere. Everything was good there and it was perfect for me."

Drury has an enrollment of 5,474 and competes at the Division II level in the 15-member Great Lakes Valley Conference. The Lady Panthers were 30-4 overall last year and went 17-1 in the GLVC West. Drury made the Division II National Tournament where they advanced to their second straight Midwest Regional championship (Sweet 16) before falling to the eventual national champions, Ashland, 74-62. 

"Paige is one of the top guards in Illinois and generated tons of college interest and had multiple Division I offers," said Drury head coach Molly Miller. "Her abilities as a basketball player, her competitive drive to win, and her character as a person are big reasons she is the perfect fit for our program. Our fans will love some instant offense that she has the ability to create, as well as her basketball IQ. She is a hard worker and will be a big contributor to our program's success. I'm thrilled she is joining our Lady Panther family."

Miller is in her fourth season at the helm with an 84-13 (.866) record, including 2-0 this season. She is a 2008 graduate of Drury. The Lady Panthers have finished No. 6, No. 14 and No. 7 in the final rankings the last three seasons and are ranked seventh in the pre-season poll. 

"It was one of the features I wanted in a team, to be successful – and Drury was the perfect fit for that," said Robinson. "They are so close to a national championship and I want to be part of that."

Robinson also visited two other GLVC schools in Southern Indiana and the University of Illinois at Springfield, as well as Division I schools Eastern Illinois University, Valparaiso and Murray State. She received an offer from St. Bonaventure as well. 

"It is a great day for the Okaw Valley family," said Okaw Valley athletics director and boys basketball coach Brooks Inman. "Paige has worked extremely hard for this moment in her life. She had numerous opportunities for many colleges and her choice to go to Drury is fantastic."

Drury is five hours away.

"It is little further than what I wanted, but it is just the perfect school," said Robinson. "Coach Miller talked to me about the distance and comforted me on that part."

Robinson is a two-time JG-TC All-Area member, and last season she was a third-team all-Illinois Basketball Coaches Association player for the 19-10 Lady Timberwolves. In the last two seasons in 56 games, she has scored 1,071 points for an average of 19.1 points per game. She also averaged 5.2 rebounds per game (293), has scored in double digits in 54 contests and has made 110 three-pointers. She averaged 2.9 blocks per game last year and shot 44 percent from the field and 37 percent from beyond the three-point line. 

"Paige is one of the most talented players that I have coached, " said Okaw Valley coach Brad Ackers. "She is a competitor, a great kid and a great student. I have nothing but superlatives to say about her across the board. I am just happy she is happy. In the recruiting process you have people pulling at you and it can be kind of overwhelming for a 17- to 18-year-old. I don't think it was for Paige."

Robinson played AAU for the Central Illinois Storm on the same team as Drury signee Shelby Myers of Effingham. She also played on the same team as Mattoon graduate Sierra Thompson and Charleston graduate Morgan Sherwood. 

"We got put in a lot of tournaments where there were hundreds and hundreds of coaches," said Robinson. "It was really good exposure there."

Drury is to graduate two seniors from this year's team, including point guard Heather Harman, who averaged a team-high 16.1 points per game last year. 

"She plays a really big role, and they are hoping I can fill that role for them," said Robinson. "Hopefully I can work hard enough and be able to fill that role."

Ackers said, "Obviously I am a little biased, but I thing Paige can step right in there at the elite DII program and play right away both as a shooter and a basketball handler. I think they see her as point guard, but I think she will be an elite shooter at that level."

Robinson credited coach Ackers and the assistant coaches Sam Inman and Jim Underwood for helping her be the player she is today. 

"My parents have been my biggest contributors to helping me the person I am today," said Robinson. "All of my family are my biggest supporters in the world and they come to everything of mine."

As for playing at the collegiate level Robinson said, "It is a dream I have always had. I switched from softball to basketball. I know a lot of people have that dream to go play collegiately, and I am actually going to do my dream. And I am really excited about it."

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Sports writer

Mike Monahan covers area sports for the JG-TC.

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