This is a feel good story about the rise and fall of Darius Paul. A story about a youngster who had it all - talent, a bright future, and loving parents - but lost it all to drug and alcohol addiction. Its a story about the fragile human condition no one is immune to, including 6' 8"/240 basketball players.
After extensive rehabilitation at the John Lucas Treatment Center in Houston,Texas, Paul is on the infinite road to recovery. And thanks to Illinois head coach John Groce, the 21-year-old will be playing for the Fighting Illini this upcoming season as a red-shirt junior.
Groce had no hesitation about bringing back a much needed physical presence to the program after Paul served a one-year suspension. Groce told Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune on November 13, 2014 (B1G Media Day).
"It's a tribute to him maturing. I know he used the phrase, 'It's humbled me.' It's made him appreciate things more. He's made the most of it. That's why we're awful excited about the progress he's made."
The power forward from Gurnee, Illinois has the definite bloodlines. His mother Lynda played college ball for Ball State and coached his summer league team (Illinois HoopStars) from fifth to eighth grade. His big brother Brandon was a super-star at Warren High School and named 2009 Illinois Mr. Basketball. He went on to star for Illinois before playing professional basketball in Russia and the NBA Developmental League.
Following in the shadows of his older brother throughout his basketball career, Paul excelled in high school. His junior year, the Blue Devils posted a 31-4 record with a state runner-up finish in the IHSA Class 4A Tournament. Paul averaged 11.2 points and 7.2 rebounds. He had a breakout senior season, leading the charge with 18.0 PPG. and 9.7 RPG.
Check out this video from his senior year in high school. He can bang down low or step back and knock down the three:
Paul made an immediate impact at Western Michigan his first year. He was named, MAC Freshman of the Year. The Broncos finished 20-14 and Paul posted five double-doubles during the 2012-2013 campaign. His best performance was against Toledo. In that game, he dropped 28 points with 12 rebounds and three assists. He finished the year with a steady 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
Looking for stiffer competition, Paul signed with Illinois, but due to NCAA regulations, he had to sit out the 2013-2014 season before enrolling. That's when the downward spiral started, thanks to having too much time on his hands. Paul experimented with drugs and alcohol on a recreational basis. Before long, he was hooked.
It all came crashing down when Paul was arrested May 13, 2014, for underage drinking and resisting arrest. Coupled with two failed drug tests, he was suspended from the team for one year. That was enough for Lynda. She immediately put her son on a plane to Houston for treatment.
After 90-days of rehabilitation, Groce reinstated Paul on November 12, 2014. He spent the 2014-2015 season playing for Lamar State Junior College in Port Arthur (TX). He was back to his new, old self, averaging 17.1 points, 9.1 rebounds, and 3.8 assists. He also added 20 pounds of muscle.
Paul will report to Champaign sometime in June. This versatile inside/outside player should fill the void left by Nnanna Egwu. In addition, he can help extend the rotation with Maverick Morgan since Austin Colbert just committed to Old Dominion.
Will Darius Paul make the most of his second opportunity? The proverbial ball is in his court. And let's hope it's a slam dunk.