There has been a lot of traveling throughout Jaysean Paige’s basketball career – but not in a bad way.
The former Jamestown High School standout and 2011 Buffalo News Player of the Year transferred away from Western New York after a scintillating junior season, then transferred two more times as a collegian.
Paige covered thousands of miles, and five different states, but his pivot foot was always firmly planted in pursuit of one goal, playing big-time Division I basketball — and now he’s there with West Virginia.
“It definitely was worth it,” said the junior guard. “It’s been a journey, I’ve just been working hard and chasing a dream.”
On Friday, Paige’s first season with the Mountaineers will climax with an NCAA Tournament appearance when West Virginia meets the University at Buffalo in Columbus, Ohio.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” that he’ll be playing in the NCAAs, Paige told The Buffalo News by phone Wednesday afternoon. “I’m just looking forward to getting out there and playing hard and being a presence.”
With UB providing Western New York’s first NCAA appearance since St. Bonaventure qualified in 2012, the Bulls’ matchup with West Virginia has led basketball fans from Western New York to let Paige know that they’ll be watching.
“A lot of people that come from around that area have contacted me,” Paige said, “saying they’ll be watching, and talking about the game.”
Friday’s matchup also presents an unprecedented local basketball event: A meeting of two former Buffalo News Players of the Year in the NCAA Tournament -- Paige (2011 winner) and UB senior reserve forward Will Regan (2009 and 2010 winner).
Paige has played in 31 of 32 games for West Virginia (23-9), averaging 6.1 points, 2.0 rebounds and more than a steal (36 total) in 13.9 minutes.
He’s displayed the all-around game he had at Jamestown, from hitting threes (34 of 88 for 38.6 percent) to earning spots on highlight shows and social media with some explosive dunks, notably an alley-oop finish in a home win over Kansas State (video below).
“Jaysean is as you know very athletic,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins told reporters on this week’s Big 12 conference call. “I think he’s adapted more and more as the season’s gone on.
“We try to play at a frantic pace, and I think he is starting to get more used to that and certainly playing harder. He played well for us in a loss to Baylor, shot the ball well for us. We need him to continue to shoot the ball well.”
Huggins was referring to Paige’s career-high 18 points in the Mountaineers’ 80-70 loss to Baylor in last week’s Big 12 Conference quarterfinals. He was 6 of 14 (both career highs) as West Virginia played without All-Big 12 guard Juwan Staten for a fourth consecutive game and senior guard Gary Browne for a third straight game.
Paige started 10 of the Mountaineers’ first 14 games before settling into a role off the bench. He shoots 40.6 percent from the field, is 20 of 38 at the line, has committed 72 fouls and has fouled out four times playing his part in West Virginia’s tenacious, physical defense.
Paige’s versatility was enhanced by his travels, he said.
“I played against a lot of different players, met a lot of different people, met a lot of coaches and made connections,” he said. “It was a good experience.”
After his tremendous junior season, Paige surprised many in Jamestown and beyond when he transferred to Perry County Central High in Hazard, Ky. He averaged 21 points and 6.7 rebounds in his 2011-12 senior season.
His college career began at the College of Southern Idaho, a junior college, where as a freshman he averaged 13.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.1 steals and 1.9 assists in 30 games, shooting 36.8 percent on three-pointers.
His next stop was Moberly Area Community College in Missouri, where he was 13th in the National Junior College Athletic Association with 21.4 points per game and was named to the NJCAA Region 16 First Team. He scored 30 or more points five times, shot 50.2 percent from the field and 44.6 percent from three-point range.
Paige could have had a different college destination — he originally signed with Southern Mississippi, but when coach Donnie Tyndall left for Tennessee, Paige’s request to back out of the commitment was granted. He signed with West Virginia in May of 2014.
“I never expected to” move around so much, said Paige, who said he still keeps in touch with former assistant (and 1999 Player of the Year) Maceo Wofford, teammate Tommy Campion and coach Ben Drake.
“I expected to be in Jamestown. But some opportunities came up and I just took advantage of them. It was tough to leave — my friends, my coaches that I had played with for a long time. I had a good relationship with people. But I had to make a decision that was best for me. It worked out. I felt like I made a good decision.”
Asked what his lasting memory of playing at Jamestown was, he quickly said, “Glens Falls, by far.”
That’s not surprising, as the site of the state championships was part of his legacy and where he provided what is remembered as his signature play. Paige had a tremendous postseason, leading Jamestown to its first trip to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association final four in Glens Falls.
During overtime of the semifinal against Albany’s Christian Brothers Academy, he leaped high to reel in an alley-oop pass from Ben Cecchini, slamming it in for the most head-turning play in his head-turning weekend.
Jamestown lost to Mount Vernon in the final the next day.
Just one year earlier at Glens Falls, Regan helped Nichols its own very special trip. The Vikings became just the second large school (Class A) boys basketball team from Western New York (joining Niagara Falls in Class AA in 2005) to win a Federation title as the overall state champion.
Regan and Paige never met in high school competition; Paige remembers facing Regan in a summer team camp at Nichols.
Regan was a three-time first-team All-Western New York selection (2008, 2009, 2010); he won Player of the Year honors in his final two seasons, sharing the award his senior season with fellow 2,000-point scorer and state champion Chris Secky.
Regan is one of just five players named to the All-WNY first-team three times, along with Lackawanna’s Tony Kelly (1980, 1981, 1982), LaSalle’s Tim Winn and Traditional’s Jason Rowe (both first-teamers in 1994, 1995 and 1996) and Williamsville North’s Sterling Taplin (2012, 2013, 2014).
Paige was a first-teamer and Player of the Year in 2011.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Paige said. “I don’t remember too much about him — now he is a pick-and-pop player. Last time it was different, he was the best player on the team.”