COLUMBIA — Miguel Paul was a junior in high school when he met his cousin for the first time.
Chattanooga (0-1) at Missouri (1-0)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
WHERE: Mizzou Arena
RADIO: KFRU/1400 AM
Paul’s high school basketball team from Florida had just won a national tournament in Raleigh, N.C., despite being one of the smallest schools competing. Paul scored 36 in the championship game.
“We weren’t supposed to win it,” said Drew Taylor, who coached Paul at Kathleen High School. “The next year, they didn’t invite us, the defending champs, back.”
Paul’s cousin, New Orleans Hornets all-star point guard Chris Paul, was waiting for him in the locker room.
They talked for a few minutes, and Chris Paul gave his cousin some advice. He told Miguel Paul to play with his head and just have fun.
Wake Forest, Chris Paul’s alma mater was working hard at the time to recruit Miguel Paul, but Chris didn’t try to influence Miguel’s decision.
“I wanted to create my own footsteps, go my own way,” Miguel Paul said.
It was Miguel Paul’s play in the tournament that motivated his cousin to organize the surprise meeting.
“I was scoring a lot of points,” Miguel Paul said. “Everybody wanted to see who I was.”
Chris Paul is a native of Winston-Salem, N.C. At one of the games, Chris Paul’s uncle spoke with Miguel Paul’s father. Then Chris Paul came to the championship game.
Miguel Paul isn’t the same caliber of player his cousin was at this stage. Chris Paul was an All-American as a freshman, averaging 15 points and six assists. The New Orleans Hornets selected him fourth in the 2005 NBA draft after his sophomore season. Miguel Paul started his career at Missouri against Prairie View A&M on Saturday as a reserve.
But the cousins do have a few things in common. They share jersey No. 3 and have similar nicknames. Chris Paul is known as “CP3” and Miguel is “MP3.”
Miguel Paul also shares his cousin’s speed and court vision. In senior guard Matt Lawrence’s four years at Missouri, he has played with quick guards like Stefhon Hannah, Keon Lawrence, Thomas Gardner and Jimmy McKinney. But Matt Lawrence said Paul is the quickest player he has seen at Missouri.
Miguel Paul’s skills make him the perfect fit for Missouri coach Mike Anderson’s fast-paced system.
“Mike Anderson is a point guards guy,” Taylor said. “We trap and press at the high school level, so we knew it would be an easy transition for Miguel to walk into Missouri.”
Paul has shown flashes of talent early in the season. Against Prairie View, Paul came off the bench to score eight points in a three-minute span in the first half, finishing with 11 points. Miguel Paul’s passing ability was on display against the Panthers as well. On one fastbreak, he threw a pass between his legs to a teammate trailing the play.
“I think his ability to see the floor is uncanny,” Taylor said. “He makes good decisions.”
The Prairie View game was a big improvement for Paul from a couple of his preseason performances. In the Black-and-Gold game, Paul committed eight turnovers without tallying a single assist. And he turned the ball over five times in 12 minutes of action in Missouri’s second exhibition game against Missouri Southern.
Anderson said he expects Paul, and all of his freshmen, to take some time to develop into consistent performers.
“That’s what a typical freshman goes through, but I think he’ll find his way,” Anderson said. “He’s still got a little understanding to do about what we’re trying to do. He’s a work in progress, just like our whole team is.”
Once Paul adjusts to the faster pace and stronger opponents of the college game, Taylor said he expects his former player to bring a winning attitude to Missouri. Paul’s high school team advanced to the Florida state championship game during his junior and senior seasons.
“No doubt in my mind, I think they’ll get in the tournament,” Taylor said.
As for why Paul’s team came up short in both state title games, Taylor has a simple explanation.
“That’s just bad coaching,” he said.
In addition to his winning attitude, Paul brings comic relief to the team. He loves to do impressions of Anderson in the locker room after practice or at the dining hall.
“He’s hilarious,” Matt Lawrence said. “He’s always cracking me up.”
Taylor fell victim to some of Paul’s impressions too.
“Just tell him to do the Drew Taylor locker room speech and you might be on your back laughing,” Taylor said.