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Wake Forest The Deacons put their faith in freshman point guard Chris Paul

March 29, 2004
March 29, 2004

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March 29, 2004

Wake Forest The Deacons put their faith in freshman point guard Chris Paul

Saint Joseph's senior Jameer Nelson is the reigning king of point
guards, and he'll carry his crown to East Rutherford, N.J., this
week for the Hawks' regional semifinal against Wake Forest. But
Chris Paul, a Demon Deacons freshman, will be waiting for him.
And based on his national freshman of the year season and superb
NCAA tournament debut last week, Paul is poised to inherit
Nelson's throne, if not topple him from it.

This is an article from the March 29, 2004 issue Original Layout

Paul was merely workmanlike in helping fourth-seeded Wake Forest
avoid a first-round upset to Virginia Commonwealth, scoring 22
points in a 79-78 victory. With the score tied at 73 and 1:03 to
play, he fed forward Jamaal Levy for a dunk, then closed out the
Rams by making four straight free throws. Two days later, as Wake
beat Manhattan 84-80, the 6-foot Paul was a polyvalent marvel in
confounding each of four Jaspers who tried to guard him, from
5'8" Kenny Minor to 6'5" Peter Mulligan. Paul committed only one
turnover while leading the Deacons in points (29), rebounds
(eight), assists (six) and steals (three).

How does Paul orchestrate Wake's prolific 83.7-points-per-game
attack? A point guard must be able to go "north-south"--getting
past his defender, and either scoring or drawing the defense in
so he can kick the ball out to a three-point shooter, of which
Wake has many. Paul is Mr. Longitude, with a game more
north-south than the Civil War. "We just try to give him the
ball," says Wake Forest coach Skip Prosser. "He usually gives it
back to me in pretty good shape two hours later."

Yet Paul disputes that he's the team leader. "They really lead
me," he says of his teammates. Small wonder that Prosser has
fretted that his precocious star, an honor student at West
Forsyth High in Clemmons, N.C., may be too deferential at times.

It's as much for Paul's local roots as his leadership ability
that people around campus call him the Mayor. Paul lived just 13
miles from the Wake Forest campus, and shortly after orally
committing to the Deacons in the spring of his junior year he
began turning up and learning all he could about their system. "I
was around the guys so much, I was almost part of the team," says
Paul.

In fact, he still had his senior season to play, and it would be
an unforgettable one. Paul's maternal grandfather, Nathaniel
(Chilly) Jones, ran a Chevron station at which Chris worked over
summers and vacations. At six each morning, after Papa Chilly
arrived at work, he liked to call the Paul home to make sure
Chris and his older brother C.J., now a point guard at Division
II South Carolina-Spartanburg, were up and getting ready for
school. In November 2002, on the day after Paul had signed his
letter of intent to play at Wake Forest with his beaming
grandfather looking on, Jones was robbed and beaten and left to
die in his carport. Papa Chilly was 61.

Jones had been a church deacon and beloved community fixture, and
some 2,000 people turned out for the funeral. What happened the
following day, in West Forsyth's season opener, will consign all
of Paul's present and future accomplishments to anticlimax. Paul
had never before scored more than 39 points in a game, but that
night he went for 61, intentionally missing a free throw so his
total would stand for the precise length of his grandfather's
life. Then Paul took himself out of the game and tearfully
collapsed into his father's arms. Before every game, as the
national anthem is played, Paul holds a laminated copy of his
grandfather's obituary.

This week Paul has a chance to win a debating point for a former
Wake guard, Billy Packer, and strike a blow for the hegemony of
the power conferences by ending the run of No. 1 seed Saint
Joseph's. But he now plays for a whole lot more. It's for reasons
beyond basketball that so many people around Winston-Salem have
come to put their trust in Paul, Prosser foremost among them: "I
tell him, 'Follow your instincts. I'll live with your
mistakes.'"

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN DEMON YOUTH With his all-around game and unerring instincts, theprecocious Paul turned the Jaspers into gaspers.