WCIA — When Okaw Valley alum Paige Robinson was deciding what to do with her last year of college eligibility, the Bethany native was not sure whether to stay for a fifth season at Drury or find a new challenge.

“It was kind of a sketchy and risky decision to make,” said Robinson of transferring. “Maybe a lot of teams in the portal, you see a kid with only one year, sometimes you may not want to risk that.”

But 2021 DII National Player of the Year could not resist the temptation to raise her game to the Division-I level. And it didn’t take long before calls came in.

“The moment she made that announcement, I think we were one of the first schools to call and shoot our shot so to speak,” said Illinois State head coach Kristen Gillespie.

“Some coaches might not see the potential that you have, and I just knew right from the start Coach G and the coaching staff had that faith in me,” said Robinson.

Robinson has been a revelation for the Redbirds this season, averaging more than 18 points per game on an ISU team off to a 7-1 start in the Missouri Valley Conference. After ISU lost its top scorer from a season ago, Robinson has fit right into that role.

“When I first came to Illinois State, they kind of put that trust into me and put a lot of confidence into me,” said Robinson. “That kind of got me going early.”

“She’s a scorer, and I think it’s a gift,” said Gillespie. “I don’t care if you’re a Division-II player, a Division-I player, she has seen every defense that has been thrown at her this year and she still finds ways to step up and score.”

After taking Drury to three NCAA Tournaments and a runner-up finish in 2021, Robinson will try to get ISU back to the Big Dance for the second straight year. In doing so, the guard with the small town roots is showing you don’t need to be from a big city to compete on the big stage.

“I just really want to represent those small town kids and let them know you can make it big, you can make it to the next level. You can’t underestimate those kids that come from small towns like Okaw Valley. I’m just glad I’m in the position I’m in to represent those people.”