PEORIA – Going to the Manual gym every day is all the motivation Justin Page needs.
Banners from the four successive men’s basketball state championships cover the walls, as do the road signs honoring the three Illinois M. Basketballs. Photos of these winning teams hang in the shrine, including a portrait of the late Howard Nathan.
Lots of Peoria basketball history in one place.
âBeing part of the manual tradition means a lot,â Page said. “With all the (former players) when they come here to teach us stuff, we just want to get us (a banner) up there now – just by working hard for it.”
The 6-foot-4 junior helped the Rams off to a 2-2 start, claiming an opening Big 12 Conference victory over Bloomington, 69-54 last Friday. He scored a high 22 points with five rebounds, three assists and three steals in 31 minutes.
It’s a far cry from what the first-year playmaker was doing.
When Page entered the Rams’ program, he was 5 feet 8 inches tall and maybe 140 pounds soaked. His main role came as a shooting specialist, stepping into the game to knock down a 3 point or make the extra pass.
A growth spurt sent Page, who describes himself as a “gym rat”, to seven inches, while weightlifting and rigorous training with 360 Speed ââand Performance at East Peoria l ‘helped put on weight, he says.
âI attack (the basket) more,â Page said of where he considers his game to have improved the most. âGain confidence. To get old. Getting stronger, just being in the gym, before school, after school, in training. I’m just working on my explosiveness.
Over the summer he organized an offensive clinic against Galesburg and St. Joseph-Ogden. The honor roll student scored 32 points and distributed eight assists against SJO, then lost 23 points and five assists on the Silver Streaks.
These off-season outings resulted in regular season success. He is averaging 18.8 points per game in four games with additional emphasis on his defensive effort.
âHe got very aggressive,â said Manual coach Willie Coleman. âI told him that’s what he needed to do to level up. You can’t be a shooter.
“I make him understand that you have to have a complete game. It would increase your stock. He understands the game. His future is bright.
Coleman points out that Page’s improvement in defensive effort, including his defense against the ball, is making huge strides.
And strong defense and manual are synonymous, dating back to the days of Dick Van Scyoc and Wayne McClain and more recently with Derrick Booth. Coleman won two state titles in those four rounds in the 1990s, so he has firsthand experience in tireless defense of the Rams.
“The manual was all about defense,” said Coleman, estimating he spends up to an hour of practice on it. âSome nights we can’t score and it’s basketball. It’s something (defending) that you do no matter what. We’re not going to put the ball in the hole all the time, but I guarantee we are going to defend every night.
Recently, Page was Named Journal Star Athlete of the Week following his efforts at the Decatur MacArthur Thanksgiving Tournament. It garnered over 51% of the vote – 12,510 votes to be exact.
Everyone from his teammates to those close to him in Louisiana and Georgia supported him.
âMy whole family everywhere was voting for me,â Page said with a smile.
One bigger accolade Page wants to add to his hoops resume is a state finals appearance.
He was in the stands as an eighth-grader in 2019 when Manual won a fourth-place Class 3A trophy. His season the following year was cut short in the section final due to the pandemic.
“I feel like we have a very good team,” he said. âI have to do this (state trip) as many times as I can, work as hard as I can to make it happen. We just have to come together, play hard everyday, train hard. We will be good.
Adam Duvall is a sports reporter for Journal Star. Email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.