With seconds possibly left in Okaw Valley’s season, Paige Robinson saw an opening.

No, it wasn’t in the lane where her coach might have preferred her to go, and running a set play for the offense was trouble with Nokomis’ defense.

She decided on door No. 3.

“After watching the video -- I remember coach (Brad) Ackers telling me to inbound the ball, somebody to hand the ball off to me and run a set play,” Robinson said. “I was calling out our play and nobody was getting to their spot, so I said screw it and started dribbles. I was like, well I don't have an open shot over here, maybe I can get to the corner.”

And on her newly favorite spot on the court, Robinson drained a 3 with seconds left to beat Nokomis in the regional and advance.

That intuition is only improving and Robinson, the area girls basketball Player of the Year, used it in every aspect of her game.

"Paige has always been a smart basketball player, she's got great instincts," Okaw Valley coach Brad Ackers said. "To a point, I've been kind of spoiled. Paige is heady enough at times, I can just tell her to go and she makes the right play."

Her ability to hit shots anywhere on the floor certainly has helped open up opportunities. And as opponents started to see she would drive inside, Robinson's been busy on another aspect of her game.

"I've worked on dribble pull-ups a lot lately, before the season too," the junior said. "We always want to run the play and get a good shot, whether it's inside or outside. But, I mean, I've gotten better at improvising."

It's needed when defenders analyze her game, intent on trying to limit her below her 21.6 points per game. That's amplified when going up against defenders like Arthur's Hannah Wallen, someone who knows her game well.

"I just try to be quicker with my dribbling and work on some dribble moves," Robinson said. "Come up with different stuff to get past good defenders."

There’s the 5.3 rebounds, which she corralled despite playing defense at the top of the key.

And then there’s Ackers favorite part of her game – defense. Robinson’s length helps her shut passing lanes, but Ackers said her anticipation of where opponents are going is what makes her so dangerous.

“She can get in the passing lanes,” he said. “I always wanted to see her active and engaged defensively. For me, it was deflections and that leads to steals and runouts where at times, our team functions best.”

The Timberwolves rolled to their second straight 19-win season behind all that.

How Robinson reached this point is a bit of a winding road. For a long time, her heart was set on softball. She played in the summer and during school, until she reached that point where she was burnt on being on the diamond.

Basketball took over.

In seventh grade, she started making the switch. While her three older sisters were much older and didn't play basketball, the one closest to her, Mallory, had a boyfriend who was willing to give her pointers.

So when Paige was 10, she had the benefit of picking up tips from a high school senior.

"I never really got to grow up with two of them, but the one closest to me, she wasn't really into basketball or anything. But her high school sweetheart, Kyle (Pierce), he would always come over to our house and we'd always scrimmage against each other," Robinson said.

"He was always good at basketball, and I remember going to his games in high school. We always play in the driveway and he'd challenge me. We get into the gym and get some shots up."

Robinson found pick-up games with guys her age, too, helping accelerate her play.

"The guys' game is a lot quicker -- I'd probably compare it to AAU," she said. "It really helps me adjust to AAU."

But maybe where Robinson is improvising most, and the toughest aspect of all, is turning into a vocal leader.

She's confident in her game, but maybe a little sheepish in telling others what to do. There's been times where she's tried to step up to the plate and immediately regretted it.

"I get focused on the game and ... I always say something wrong in the game and I'm like, 'Ohh, I did not mean to say that,'" Robinson said.

It's an aspect she knows she needs at the next level, and especially as a point guard. So she's working on it.

"I'm still growing into a vocal leader, but I still need to grow even more."

Ackers said she's doing just fine breaking down offenses and defenses.

"I trust what she sees in her basketball mind, so I'll ask her sometimes in games and in practice, what do you think about this?" he said.

There are other elements to her game she's ready to keep tackling, like speed, "I'm pretty slow for a point guard." But before Robinson goes off to play college basketball, she wants to fill up Okaw Valley's trophy case first.

"Knowing that our school hasn't had a regional championship in basketball since we consolidated, it kind of pushes me to want to get it even more."

adow@herald-review.com|(217) 421-6978

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Sports Writer

Sports Writer for the Herald & Review.

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