Paul putting in work

Published 9:36 pm Monday, January 2, 2012

East Carolina point guard Miguel Paul (left) shoots a jumper during a Pirates’ game earlier this year. So far this season Paul, a transfer from Missouri, leads the Pirates in points, assists and steals per game. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

GREENVILLE — Some athletes are born with talent, while others have to work above and beyond to make the most of their physical gifts. The ones who make it to the highest level of competition generally tend to be those that have the rare combination of natural born skill and a supernatural drive to be the best. Right now, that’s the recipe that has allowed East Carolina point guard Miguel Paul to shine in his first official season with the Pirates.
Paul is the son of former Winston-Salem State wide receiver Masha Paul, who lettered for four years with the Rams and was once named the team’s offensive MVP. Masha would go on to sign a free-agent contract with the Philadelphia Eagles and when it became evident that Miguel would follow in his father’s athletic footsteps the elder Paul made sure his son made the most of his gifts.
“He played at the highest level and he told me that I have to work hard and that if I want to make money doing it than I have to get up and work everyday,” Paul said. “He instilled a work ethic in me early.”
On the court Paul’s been working overtime as the 6-3, 180-pound junior leads ECU in scoring and is ranked eighth in Conference USA with 15.6 points per night, while his 5.7 assists per game is tops in the league and his 1.7 steals per contest is second. Through the first 13 games of the season ECU holds a 9-4 record and is currently in the midst of a five-game winning streak as Paul is averaging 35.5 minutes per game which also ranks No. 1 on his team and fourth in C-USA.
“Obviously he has meant a lot to us. He’s our leading scorer and assist guy and he gives us speed out there at the point guard position,” East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo said. “I like my point guards to be able to score and he supplies that.”
Upon graduating from Kathleen High School in 2008 Paul passed on offers from high-major schools such as Clemson, Memphis and Miami and agreed to play for Missouri. However, after two seasons with the Tigers where he averaged 3.2 points per game, the Florida native was looking to latch on with a team where he could make a bigger impact. The Pirates were more than willing to comply.
“Not to sound cocky but I knew if I went to the right place I could help a team and contribute because I do feel like I’m a special player,” Paul said. “When I came here I told Coach Lebo that if he gave me a chance to work and compete for a starting spot I could make this team a lot better.”
After sitting out the entire 2010-11 season due to NCAA transfer rules, Paul is doing his best to live up to that promise and his impressive play has caught none of his teammates by surprise.
“That’s just the type of player he is,” senior center Darrius Morrow said. “He wants to be the top dog in the numbers category and he’s a good player. Good players aren’t going to be at the bottom of the list in the statistics category. I expected that from the jump.”
Nobody would know better than Morrow who has seen the Pirates’ point guard race up and down the court since the two were teenagers in AAU circuit.
“His strength is that he is so fast. He’s a nightmare for anyone that tries to guard him,” Morrow said. “You might think you can back up off him but then he’ll start hitting threes. If you push up on him he’ll go right by you and take it to the rim.”
Paul’s speed makes him incredibly tough to cover but he needs to slow down the game down mentally to improve as a point guard.
“He’s fast, and I like for him to play fast, but when he plays fast he needs to be simpler with his decisions,” Lebo said. “You can’t be fast and complicated with your decision making and sometimes he does that. That’s an area we’ve addressed with him and I think that’s an area where he can get a lot better.”
Lebo is hoping that Paul’s improvement comes soon than later. On Wednesday, the Pirates will begin conference play on the road at Southern Miss and if the school wants to make some noise in league play then Paul will have to continue to put in work.
“A lot of it is going to fall on his shoulders. He’s going to have to be good. That’s just the way it’s going to be,” Lebo said. “There’s not too many teams that I’ve seen that have had success in conference play and not had their point guard play particularly well. It’s the most important position to me in college basketball. … I think we feed off of him. When he’s playing well he’s the head of the monster.”