BETHANY — "Paige Robinson is a ball handler, and her shooting ability has always been exceptional by whatever standard you want to go by," said Okaw Valley girls basketball coach Brad Ackers. "I have never seen a girl handle the basketball or shoot the basketball quite like Paige. She is far and away the best I have ever been around."
Robinson led the Lady Timberwolves in every category, scoring 24.2 points per game, which led the JG-TC area, and pulling down 9.2 rebounds a game, which was second in the area. She also averaged 2.8 assists, 2.7 steals and an area-high 2.6 blocks per game. She also led Okaw Valley, which finished fourth in Class 1A, in field goal percentage (47 percent), 3-point field goal percentage (35), 3-point field goals made (an area-high 96) and 75 percent from the free-throw line, also an area best.
For her accomplishments, the 5-10 senior guard has been named the 36th annual JG-TC Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
"I think I improved on finishing at the basket and getting to the basket in the first place," said Robinson of her improvement from last season to this season. "I think I have grown into my body and grown in strength and used that to my advantage and finished better."
As a junior Robinson averaged 21.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 3.4 steals and 2.9 blocked shots, while shooting 44 percent from the field and making 76 3-pointers, shooting 37 percent.
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When Ackers was asked if there were times he was wondering how Robinson made the shot, got a steal, made a pass or blocked a shot, he said, "It has happened consistently over the past three years, particularly the last two years as she has continued to get stronger. You could see flashes of that definitely as a sophomore. There have been countless times over the last two years I kind of had to look to the back of the bench and just shake my head. It was Paige doing Paige stuff. You get a little spoiled, and you just come to expect it. That is what the great ones do, and Paige did that quite often."
Robinson becomes just the second Okaw Valley player to earn the Player of the Year award, joining Tracie Yantis, who earned the award in 2005.
The Lady Timberwolves won a school-record 29 games, losing seven. They won the school's first-ever girls basketball regional. Bethany won a regional in 1980.
"I knew we wanted to get the first regional championship – that was our goal at first," said Robinson, the daughter of Brett and Lori Robinson. "Once we got that, our goals kept getting higher and higher."
Just like last year, Robinson faced many double teams and even some triple teams.
"Having two girls on you is tough, but I have experience with that," said Robinson. "I have gotten used to it and adjusted the best I can. If two people are on me, then I look for the open girl."
Robinson was one of three seniors, with the other two being Hope Ruppert and Natalie Jeffers. All have started for three years together.
"It helps a lot," said Robinson. "We have been playing together forever, and we had a really good experience there. We played really well together."
Robinson is headed to Drury University in the fall and is to play basketball. About her career-high 40-point game on Jan. 18 in the Little Okaw Valley Conference Northwest Division championship, a 60-39 win over Arthur-Lovington-Atwood-Hammond, she said, "I hit the first couple of shots and felt good. My shots were falling. I felt like the game was coming to me and I wasn't forcing anything up."
Robinson is a first-team Illinois Basketball Coaches Association All-State Class 1A/2A player and was a unanimous all-LOVC NW division player.
It has been over a month now since Robinson and her teammates earned the first state girls basketball trophy in the JG-TC area since Sullivan finished the runner-up in 1991-92.
"It is still kind of surreal," said Robinson. "I have watched the game on TV, and it is great to see all of the fans there and I enjoy seeing that trophy and just looking at it."
In the sectional championship, a rematch of the LOVC overall tournament championship game against Tri-County (Tri-County won 58-52), Robinson dazzled the crowd at North Clay by scoring 32 points, including 15 in the final 5:50, making all four field goal attempts, including three 3-pointers as the Lady Timberwolves advanced to the supersectional with a 51-43 victory. In the six postseason games leading up to the third-place game, Robinson averaged 28.7 points and 10.8 rebounds per game with games against the likes of Central A&M, Altamont, Tri-County, Mounds Meridian and Stockton.
Robinson, who played in the Amateur Athletic Union from March through July and got in the gym as much as possible, said she really didn't try to be like one specific player.
"I grew up watching sports, and I got to see a lot of famous athletes on TV," said Robinson. "I see what they do. There is not one specific player I tried to be like. I tried to learn from every athlete in my position-shooting guard. I watched how they defending players."
Growing up with a basketball hoop in the driveway, Robinson said in the last several years she really talked to her brother-in-law Kyle Pierce, a 2010 Okaw Valley graduate and former member of the JG-TC All-Area team.
"He has really helped me a lot over the years," said Robinson. "He is very basketball-smart and knows what to do in every situation. He knows when I mess up and corrects me on that. Of course my dad also spent a lot of time in the gym with me. It was nice to have those two really help me out."
Robinson leaves as the top scorer in school history with 2,111 points, 650 rebounds and 216 career 3-pointers.
"You have to work after practice, before practice and in the off-season," said Robinson of what are the keys to being a successful player. "You have to work as hard as you can and be the best you, you can be. Don't try and be anyone else. Get anything that will help your game, and if you do all of that you will be successful."