As a sophomore he played against the eventual No. 1 overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, so now as a senior there aren't many situations that will rattle Willingboro guard Ronny Paden.
When the game is on the line, as it was Tuesday, Paden is able to go above the norm. He made one four-point play and scored seven of his 25 points in the fourth quarter as the Chimeras defeated visiting Rancocas Valley, 57-52, in an early season nondivisional game that had a postseason feel.
Paden played his first season at Hamilton North, then transferred to Trenton Catholic Academy for the next two years. He said it was difficult to pay the tuition, so he now attends Willingboro. The experience of playing the last two seasons on a state power, one that captured the Tournament of Champions title his sophomore year, has been a major benefit.
"Paden was terrific," said Rancocas Valley coach Jay Flanagan, whose 1-1 team is ranked No. 8 in South Jersey by The Inquirer. "We really couldn't guard him."
There was a time when Paden was saying that about others. In his sophomore year, when TCA suffered a 78-52 loss to St. Patrick's, Kyrie Irving, who was the overall No. 1 pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA draft, scored 30 points for the winners.
Paden was a reserve on that team, but he was matched against Irving.
"It's amazing to think I was guarding the No. 1 pick in the draft," Paden said.
Yet it was experiences like that, in a game in which Paden went scoreless, that has made him the player he is.
He's quite an addition to Willingboro.
Already committed to St. Peter's University, the 6-foot-4 Paden is a combination guard who can slither through defenses and also hurt them with a jumper that he fires with one of the quickest releases around.
"That comes from hours of practice," Paden said.
No. 4 Willingboro (3-0) would have been formidable without the addition of Paden. He now makes the Chimeras into a state Group 2 title contender. Paden is averaging 23.3 points and combines with Tyrell Maloney to give Willingboro one of the top guard tandems in South Jersey.
Paden was quick to point out that it was far from a one-man show. Joseph Ricks contributed 13 points and forward Michael Owens scored all three of his points in the Chimeras' 18-16 fourth quarter.
Even after his four-point play gave the Chimeras a 50-46 lead with 3 minutes, 43 seconds left, RV eventually tied the score at 51 before Willingboro took the lead for good on a follow by Owens, his only basket of the game, with 1:24 left.
Rancocas Valley was hurt by poor foul shooting, which included 5 for 12 in the second half. Point guard Tariq Jett scored 22 points and also spent time guarding Paden.
Flanagan couldn't use Jett on Paden for long stretches because his point guard would have been worn out.
Of all his attributes, it's Paden's poise in key situations that stands out.
He has benefited from prior competition and now is providing it for any unlucky defender who has to attempt to keep Paden in check.
Rancocas Valley 15 8 13 16 - 52
Willingboro 11 20 8 18 - 57
R: Erik Collins 5, Tariq Jett 22, Ben Hills 12, Dom Twitty 13.
W: Tyrell Maloney 5, Maurice Counts 4, Ronny Paden 25, Fayrran Houston 7, Joseph Ricks 13, Michael Owens 3.