Paul Paradoski has gone from likely redshirt to Southeast Missouri State University's starting point guard -- and he hasn't even gotten a big head.
"It's really exciting, but I'm not letting it get to my head," said Southeast's only freshman as he sported a big grin. "At first I thought it would get to my head, but I'm just trying to stay really even with everything."
Paradoski, who last year at this time was starring for Vianney High School in St. Louis, didn't even expect to play for Southeast this season. The plan was to practice with the squad but not participate in games as he preserved his eligibility by redshirting.
But a rash of preseason injuries, most notably in the backcourt, changed all those plans. Paradoski said he was informed by coach Gary Garner prior to the exhibition opener against Harris-Stowe.
"I wanted to redshirt, but about an hour before the Harris-Stowe game, coach told me that because of all the injuries, he needed me to play," Paradoski said.
Still, Paradoski figured he'd receive spot duty at best. And that's what happened during the season opener at Bradley as he saw just four minutes of action.
But last year's point guard, Mike Nelke, was bothered by a wrist injury. And Terrick Willoughby, who started against Bradley at the point, is better suited to playing shooting guard or small forward.
So Garner decided to give Paradoski his first collegiate start, against visiting Rockhurst, in Southeast's second game.
Told just hours before the contest that he would be in the lineup to begin play, Paradoski responded with a double-double consisting of 10 points and 11 assists. He also had three steals and just one turnover -- and several days later was named the Ohio Valley Conference's rookie of the week.
Just minutes after the Rockhurst game, Paradoski said he really wasn't very nervous -- which totally surprised Southeast senior shooting guard Brett Hale.
"I remember how nervous I was as a freshman," Hale said. "To handle it the way Paul did was pretty amazing."
Paradoski has continued his solid play for a 3-5 Southeast squad that is gearing up for Wednesday's contest at North Texas (5-3). He has started all but two games, and leads Southeast in assists with 25 while committing 11 turnovers, which is a 2.27 assist/turnover ratio that ranks third in the OVC. He is also 10th in the OVC in assists. Paradoski is second on the team with 10 steals and is averaging 2.9 points per game.
"I'm surprised at how much I'm playing," said Paradoski, who generally winds up splitting time at the point in most games with Nelke. "I knew I had the talent, but I didn't think I'd be starting so early in the season. Even when I found out I wasn't going to redshirt, I figured I'd just play a few minutes a game, especially at first."
Garner figured the same thing.
"We had planned on redshirting Paul, until the injury bug hit, but we hadn't planned on playing him nearly this much," Garner said. "But Paul is really playing well for a freshman. I've been very happy with him."
Paradoski was regarded as one of the state's top high school point guards after a stellar career at Vianney. Like most prep standouts, he had plenty of confidence when he first arrived at Southeast, but he said that took a hit after Southeast's Labor Day exhibition trip to Canada.
"I didn't play that good and I was kind of down, but once we got to practice, I started playing like in high school," he said. "I got more confidence, and all the other guys got confidence in me.
"I didn't know what to expect when I first got here, but once I started getting more confident, I knew I could do it."
Paradoski is listed as 6-feet, but admits with a grin that he's only 5-10. While muscular, he is on the thin side at about 165 pounds.
Paradoski's primary assets are speed, quickness and deft ballhandling, but he knows he needs to get a lot bigger and stronger, and he also needs to improve his outside shot.
"The biggest difference between high school and college is the size. In high school, there were a lot of kids smaller than me. Now everybody is a lot bigger," he said. "I'm going to have to get a lot stronger. And I work on my shot all the time.
"In high school I would just go to the basket and just score at will, but it's hard to do that here, so I have to shoot jumpers."
Despite his lack of height, Paradoski was a prolific dunker in high school. He hopes to again display those skills in the future, but he knows that time is quite a ways off.
"It's so much different now," he said. "It's hard to get in there and do stuff like I did in high school."
But it's not hard for Paradoski to run the team. He has displayed a natural flair for playing the point, something that Southeast coaches saw when they recruited him and something that comes from a lifetime of playing the position.
"I've never done anything else. I've been a point guard my whole life," he said.
Paradoski received interest from several other Division I programs, but with an opportunity to play so close to home, he said picking Southeast was an easy choice.
"It's nice being close to St. Louis. My parents have come to every game," he said. "So far I'm pretty happy."