The kids and coaches didn’t know it back then, but the gymnasium at Morey Middle School in Denver during the mid-2000s set the stage for stardom. It’s where a pair of teenage teammates with basketball dreams developed their talent, and on Saturday, they’ll face off as collegiate opponents one last time in the Centennial State’s biggest game of the season: Colorado’s Dominique Collier and Colorado State’s J.D. Paige.
“We actually won the championship together our eighth grade year,” Paige said. “It was cool.”
Collier, a 6-foot-2 senior guard out of Denver East, and Paige, a 6-foot-3 redshirt junior guard out of Rangeview, have been competitors ever since. They never met officially as high school foes outside a preseason scrimmage, but all bets were off on the playground.
“I can remember us going at it any time we could play each other,” Paige said, “whether it was open gym, summer games — anything.”
In 2014, the pair stood among the region’s most coveted college prospects. Collier was listed as the No. 1 player in Colorado, and Paige was at No. 3, according to 24/7 Sports rankings. And they might have been teammates once again in Boulder had CU coach Tad Boyle not also had his eye on former Regis Jesuit guard Josh Perkins, another Class of 2014 star, who ultimately chose Gonzaga.
“You kind of have to prioritize things as a coach and get who you can get,” Boyle said. “But J.D. Paige is a terrific player who has had a great career. I’ve got a lot of respect for him.”
However, there was no doubting CSU’s interest in Paige, as Rams’ coach Larry Eustachy said he recruited him from the time Paige was 15 years old. Collier’s scholarship offer list at the time included Power 5 mainstays like Arizona, UCLA and Missouri, keeping the Rams’ interest at bay. But Eustachy has still kept a close eye on Collier throughout a CU career that has included several setbacks in relation to foot/ankle ailments.
“Collier has had a tough go of it,” Eustachy said. “He’s had a lot of injuries and I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He’s played through a lot of things, a lot of adversity, and that’s what this game is about.”
Paige and Collier enter the 11 a.m. Saturday tipoff in Fort Collins as upperclassmen leaders of rosters chocked full of new or untested talent. Collier has started all six games through CU’s undefeated start, and while CSU sits just 3-4, Paige leads the Rams in average minutes played (34.3) in addition to 10.7 points and two assists per game.
The pair of old teammates will undoubtedly share an embrace of on the hardwood at Moby Arena at some point Saturday, and maybe even reflect on their middle school glory days, because no rivalry can erase a history of friendship.
“I think it got us to where we’re at now,” Paige said. “I think it was good for both of us.”
But don’t get it twisted. Even old buddies enjoy beating one another — especially with state bragging rights on the line.
“It should be fun going against him for the last time,” Collier said, “and trying to come out with that win.”
Colorado (6-0) at Colorado State (3-2)
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Moby Arena
TV: AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain
Radio: KARS-FM 102.9, KDCO-AM 1340, 850 AM
Tickets: General admission tickets are available as low as $16 at csurams.com/tickets