"I'm not going to fall apart," Paige said.
He was ready to strap a saddle on his back and let his teammates ride him, which they did. Against favored Hill City High, Paige scored a game-high and career-high 20 points and led the Wildcats to a 61-48 win. "The kid doesn't know what the rim is for," one Hill City fan remarked admiringly as another of Paige's shots swished.
"Kids are resilient," said Wahlstrom later. "They have the ability to bawl their heads off one minute and be focused the next."
In the final the next night Custer's tournament run ended; Little Wound High beat the Wildcats 54-44. Paige, with 59 points and 41 rebounds in four games, was named to the all-tournament team, the only freshman so honored. He continued his fine play through mid-February, leading Custer in points, assists and rebounds as the Wildcats—scrappy, willing, full of try—scraped together a 10-8 record without their leader and star. Paige had come further faster than anyone had suspected he would, and it tortured his father to think what might have been. "The hell of it is how well he'd have played with Derek this year," said Fred.
Perhaps. But he could play no more bravely than he now plays with his brother alive in his heart.