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FENNO: For Victor Page, reality of fall from stardom difficult to grasp

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

An officer in a bulletproof vest led the rail-thin man into a small room where three cheap plastic chairs rested under a fluorescent light.

Victor Page jerked away from the officer.

"Don't touch me," he said.

A tattered black patch covered the spot where Page's right eye used to reside. Gray hair advanced on his temples. The white uniform from the Prince George's County Correctional Center looked awkward on his long arms and legs. A white uniform means the once-fearless Georgetown guard who led the Big East in scoring during the 1996-97 season works in the jail's food service operation five days each week.

A few minutes after 8 a.m., Page looked worn out. Older than his 38 years. A haggard, beaten shadow of the dunk-happy man named most valuable player of the 1996 Big East Tournament over teammate Allen Iverson.

The staffers all know inmate No. A53173. An officer at the first metal-detector checkpoint shook his head when he looked at the name scrawled in the visitor's ledger.

"Victor Page?" the officer said. "He's a frequent flier here."

Deep in the maze of locked doors and thick glass, easy smiles on a trio of officers disappeared when Page's name emerged. The story of the prodigious basketball talent from Washington's rough Barry Farms neighborhood who couldn't escape trouble has been told and retold.

The basketball career fizzled years ago, one wasted opportunity after another. Ask what became of Page, though, and the answer starts with a series of disheveled, cringe-inducing mugshots and a trail of court records that lead to the cramped interview room and, I hope, an answer.

"It's so, so sad," another staffer said, looking like a frustrated mother. "He threw it all away."

Since 2010, Page has been jailed in this sprawl of barbed wire and long-slung buildings nine times for everything from brief stays following arrests to convictions. Those visits account for more than 700 days. He won't be leaving anytime soon.

Page sat down, but didn't smile.

"You know I have an agent, right?"

"No," I said, "I don't."

Page's voice rose an octave. Since-corroded glory seemed fresh in his mind.

"I have an agent. Talk to him. I don't do interviews without getting paid."

"Oh. We don't pay for interviews. Who's your agent?"

"Jerrod Mustaf."

On the phone a few days later, the one-time Maryland standout and NBA first-round pick recalled representing Page starting around 2003. In the past tense. For four or five years, Mustaf tried to convince Page to pursue a job as a motivational speaker instead of clinging to the fading hopes of a basketball career.

When leaving Georgetown for the NBA after two seasons didn't work out, Page played 157 games for the Continental Basketball Association's Sioux Falls Skyforce through 2002 and, once, chased an opponent around the court with a broom.

Mustaf talked about his friend's difficulties finding steady work. One address listed for Page in a 2012 court proceeding is an empty lot next to a meat processing plant in Maryland.

"I thought he'd be better served as a teacher to other kids, a guy who had so much going for him but mistakes led him to this," Mustaf said. "He could offer them some sort of advice on how to avoid those pitfalls. ... You're a legend who had everything. Going to Georgetown. Wanting to play in the NBA. But poor decisions led me to this type of lifestyle."

They last spoke several months ago. Mustaf had no idea Page was jailed.

"Sentenced to what?" Mustaf said. "Get out of here."

Last month, a Prince George's County Circuit Court judge sentenced Page to 10 years in jail after he pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. Page had been out of jail less than a month on unrelated charges when three Prince George's County Sheriff's deputies were summoned to a Forestville apartment at 1:03 a.m. on Feb. 8.

"The suspect jumped out of bed, pulled the victim's hair tearing it from the scalp," the statement of probable cause read. "He then dragged her to the bathroom, throwing her into the tub and running hot water on her while punching the victim repeatedly in the face."

The statement continued: "The suspect then ran into the kitchen and grabbed a knife and stabbed the victim on her right hand and right thigh. The victim then ran outside as the suspect chased her with the knife and stated he was going to kill her."

Court records show the same woman is the complainant in at least three previous cases against Page since 2009. I mention the woman's name to Mustaf. His response almost jars the phone loose.

"[Page] warned me before this," he said. "He said, 'Hey, she's tougher than any guy on the streets.'"

But trouble of every variety has been Page's companion since he starred at McKinley Tech High School, from the laundry list of charges covering everything from cocaine to theft to the unlawful use of a livestock vehicle to the gunshot two days before Thanksgiving in 2003 that took his right eye.

Over the last three and a half years, Page has been charged with 33 crimes in Maryland and the District. He's been found guilty of (or pleaded guilty to) six of them, including two second-degree assaults, a fourth-degree sexual offense, unlawful entry, fourth-degree burglary and possession of marijuana.

He's violated probation repeatedly, had a $100,000 bond revoked and was ordered to a drug treatment program.

Under the fluorescent light, Page clung to faded glory. I asked what the 'agent' does for for a man who is told when to wake, shower, eat and sleep.

"He's my agent."

"We don't pay for stories," I said.

"I can't do it."

"Well, how are you doing?"

"I can't do it."

"You can't do it?"

"There's no sense in even trying to talk."

A staffer standing by the door reminded Page that when he signed a release form for the interview days earlier she made clear he wouldn't be paid. That's not how the business works.

Page protested. His words seemed detached from the locked-down reality. Page claimed to have received checks for a 2009 interview with a Washington television station and by a national newspaper that wrote about his struggles in 2006. The bluster carried a hint of pride that, for an instant, tried to act as if he wasn't in this room. Forget the officer in the bulletproof vest a few feet away.

"How much?" I said.

"Look on the Internet."

Page's lone brown eye didn't make contact. Embarrassment seemed to lurk under the attempt at bravado.

"You ready?" the officer said.

"Yeah, I'm ready," Page said.

"You should've told me this when I came to get you this morning," the officer said.

"I wanted to talk to him face-to-face, all right?" Page said.

He left without another word or look, shuffled back into the prison that is his home.

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