He was an abnormally large fifth grader, probably 6 feet or so, but size alone is not why Lynda Paul was drawn to a kid moving gracefully on rollerblades inside of a Chicago-area gymnasium.
“I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, he is quite athletic,’ ” Paul remembers thinking, aware the boy came from a family of successful athletes. “He was really mastering those rollerblades.”
Paul, a successful AAU boys basketball coach in Illinois, is credited with grooming the top two freshmen this season in the Mid-American Conference. One is her son, Darius, a precocious power forward at Western Michigan. The other is the rollerblader, whom Paul convinced after many attempts to trade in his wheels for a pair of sneakers.
“She was one of the best coaches I’ve had,” said University of Toledo center Nathan Boothe, who wisely surrendered to Paul’s pleads to join her team.
Boothe and the Pauls formed a dynamic collaboration, helping Illinois Hoops Stars capture the state AAU title when the boys were in seventh grade. In high school, with Lynda analyzing their games from the bleachers, the 6-foot-9 and 6eeeeee-foot-8 frontline led Warren Township to a state final appearance.
Their fluffy narrative will take a turn today when Paul and Western Michigan invade Savage Arena for an anticipated showdown between co-leaders of the MAC West. Both teams are 8-4 in the league, and this rematch of a rout won by Western Michigan last month is being viewed as Toledo’s biggest test in six years.
“I always talked to Darius and Nate, and all of my players, about producing,” said Paul, whose teams won 98 percent of their games during a seven-year period. “You have to produce, otherwise you’re taking up space for someone who wants to produce. Nate and Darius have been groomed to produce.”
Both are the sibling of an Illinois player of the year. Brandon Paul, a standout guard at the University of Illinois, earned Mr. Basketball in 2009. Sarah Boothe, who played at Stanford, was honored in 2008.
Darius, the favorite for MAC freshman of the year, leads all freshmen in scoring (10.2 points per game) and rebounding (5.9). He poured in 15 points Jan. 16 in a 79-56 win against the Rockets, a game played in Kalamazoo in which Lynda and Boothe’s parents carpooled from Gurnee, Ill.
Paul’s up-and-under post move against Boothe illustrated why he was tabbed the No. 5 recruit in the state. Boothe, who has started every game and averages 8.4 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.5 blocked shots, could surpass his friend for the honor with a thunderous finish.
“You’re asking the wrong guy because I’m biased,” Toledo coach Tod Kowalczyk said. “I think he’s the best freshman in the league. I’m also his coach.”
Said Darius, “It hasn’t come up much, but I hear the media talking about it.”
Warren Township, which advanced to the Class 4A championship game in 2011, was poised to secure a rematch with Simeon the following year but fell off in the elite eight. Boothe said that game, “In no way were we supposed to lose.” It marked the final game at the school for 37-year coach Chuck Ramsey, and also the end of an era that featured Boothe and Paul as teammates.
Now adversaries, they stay in contact, sending one another an occasional text message after a game. They saw each other during Christmas break, with Boothe surprising Paul with his thin frame, down 40 pounds from their senior year.
“I’m really proud of both of these young men,” Ramsey said. ”They’ve stepped in and been players from day one. They’re on winning teams, and they’re contributing to their winning teams.”
TRANSFER OUT: Spaniard Angel Aparicio will not play this season for UT after the NCAA ruled him ineligible as a transfer student. He is expected to play next season, and he will have three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.