Murray State missed out on the NCAA tournament this season, but sophomore guard Cameron Payne burst onto the national scene with a stellar second campaign.
The 6-foot-2 sophomore averaged 20.2 points, 6 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals per game and also improved his shooting splits to 45 percent from the field, 37 percent from 3-point territory and 78 percent from the free-throw line.
Payne and his family are allowed to gather information and still return to school, and according to the Yahoo report, head coach Steve Prohm working with the family through the process.
Prohm helped get former Murray State guard Isaiah Canaan to the NBA Draft in 2013 and the Ohio Valley Conference has also recently produced a few players who have made NBA rosters. Former Morehead State forward Kenneth Faried played for the USA Basketball senior national team this past summer and former Tennessee-Martin guard Lester Hudson just recently signed with the Los Angeles Clippers.
Payne is currently regarded as the No. 30 overall pick in the first round of the latest Draft Express mock draft.
Cameron Payne didn’t expect to fill Isaiah Canaan’s void at Murray State, but he did
The 2013-2014 season was supposed to be a rebuilding year for Ohio Valley Conference powerhouse Murray State.
They lost the face of their program, a legend at a school with quite a bit of basketball pedigree, when all-american Isaiah Canaan graduated. The team’s heart and soul, double-double machine Ed Daniel, departed as well. Then just a couple of weeks before the season was supposed to start, Zay Jackson, who was slotted in as the team’s starting point guard, tore an ACL.
What that meant was in a year where the Racers were looking to replace two of the most successful players in program history, they would be doing it with just a single point guard on the roster, a freshman name Cameron Payne.
And that ended up being the best thing that could have happened to Racers.
Murray State got out to a rough start last season, losing five of their first seven games. Payne had a decent start to the season, but impressive box scores hid the fact that his efficiency wasn’t always the best. In his first career game, at Valparaiso, Payne finished with 21 points, five boards and four assists … while shooting 6-for-24 from the floor. He was 7-for-20 from the floor in a loss at Auburn. He fouled out against Middle Tennessee State in Murray. He had six turnovers at Saint Mary’s.
Part of that was simply being a freshman playing his first collegiate games. Part of it was that he was still learning the offense and the way head coach Steve Prohm wanted him to play the point guard position. And part of it was that he needed to become a better decision maker.
“He has the ability to make a special play every possession, but just make the great play when you have to make the great play,” Prohm told NBCSports.com last week. “Hit singles and doubles, make the homerun play when you have to.”
It didn’t take Payne long to start putting it all together, and has he morphed into one of the most productive freshman in the country — at any level — Murray State started to play like one of the nation’s best mid-major programs. They won 20 of their next 26 games, won the Western Division of the OVC with a 13-3 record and, despite losing in the OVC tournament, finished the season with a title, winning the CIT.
Well, he only averaged 16.8 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 boards and 1.7 steals. Not bad for a freshman.
The way Payne tells it, the freedom to play through mistakes early in the season afforded him the confidence he needed. When a player doesn’t after to worry about getting yanked out of the game for making one mistake, when he doesn’t have the pressure of knowing that he’ll hear the horn every time he turns the ball over, it makes the game a lot easier. Particularly for a freshman.
“It helped my confidence a lot [because] you can make mistakes,” Payne said. “There wasn’t a backup point guard. When I made a mistake, I would play through it because I had to.”
It didn’t take long for the Racers’ rabid fan base to figure out that they may have landed themselves a player that could fill the void that Canaan left. While the two play very different positions — Payne is a lanky, high-IQ playmaker that is best when the ball in his hands, while Canaan was a big-time scorer and shooter that was at his best moving off the ball — Prohm says that both players have the mental make-up to handle being the center of a town’s attention.
One thing you have to understand is that in Murray, Kentucky, there is nothing other than the Racers. “If they didn’t have Murray State basketball,” Prohm says, “I don’t know what they’d do here.” The players are celebrities in town. The home games are always sold out. It’s like Friday Night Lights, only on the college hardwood instead of the high school gridiron. Prohm knew right away that Payne, like Canaan, would be able to handle that responsibility.
“They understand the commitment that it takes to play at Murray State,” Prohm said. “Their personalities are the same in that they’re great for community because they can interact with anybody. They give back, they sign autographs, they tweet, they take pictures with the fans, they let people know that they’re invested in this program and community.”
That’s not the only thing that the two have in common. Both players ended up at Murray State are being overlooked as bench players on loaded AAU teams. For Payne, a Memphis native, he was a role player on a team that included Johnathan Williams of Missouri and Nick King of Memphis. Murray State first saw him when he helped win a the U16 Peach Jam title in 2011, and they made him a priority. While other programs joined in the pursuit later on — including Wichita State — Payne appreciated the loyalty that the Racer staff had showed him.
Prohm knew that they had just landed a kid that could one day make an all-league team. What he didn’t realize, however, was that he would be in the mix for OVC Player of the Year in his first season in town.
“I can’t sit here and say that I knew he was going to have the freshman year that he’d have,” he said.
Payne is happy with how things turned out. Instead of being bitter about “only” playing at an OVC school, he’s reveling in proving, on a nightly basis, that the big boys missed out when they didn’t recruit him. And while he may not be on TV every night, he still gets to experience being the Big Man On Campus.
Even his headband has a twitter account.
“When I first came, I was like, ‘should I wear a headband, should I not,'” Payne said. “But then I ended up wearing the head band, and it became a thing. When Ed [Daniel] was here, it was his afro.”
“I actually found out during the seaosn. They kept mentioning me and I ended up following it, and the people that made it, they started shooting me DMs. I was really excited about that. It was really fun. I’ve got something that symbolizes me now.”
2014-2015 Season Preview: Murray State, Belmont, Morehead State headline Ohio Valley
The Ohio Valley is one of the few conferences that is still broken up into divisions, and the most interesting of the two divisional races this season will be in the east.
Belmont has been one of the best mid-major programs in the country under head coach Rick Byrd. In the last nine years, the Bruins have won seven regular season titles and six conference tournament titles despite playing in two different leagues. Byrd has done it by building a program that slowly-but-surely develops the guys on the team into stars at this level, which is why he should feel complete confidence in Craig Bradshaw filling in for J.J. Mann.
Belmont’s issue will be in the front court, where they have to replace both starters — as well as “Big Chad” Lang — which is part of the reason why I think that Morehead State will win the East Division. Sean Woods returns four starters from last year’s 20-win team, including his entire back court. It’s headlined by Angelo Warner, a 6-foot-2 senior that averaged 17.5 points a season ago, numbers that could bump up this season if he shoots better than 32.6% from three. With a handful of Division I transfers and a number of JuCo imports joining the ranks this season, Woods will have the depth, particularly in his back court, to make Morehead’s full-court press quite lethal.
While those two programs battle it out supremacy in the East, Murray State looks like they are clearly the team to beat in the West. It starts with Cam Payne, a 6-foot-2 sophomore who came out of nowhere to become one of the best freshman in the country (more on him in a bit). He’s not alone, however, as Steve Prohm returns four starters, including workhorse forward Jarvis Williams, Jeffery Moss and Clemson transfer T.J. Sapp, who should be even better this year after missing the first half of last season. Throw in Utah transfer Justin Seymour, and the Racers should be better than the team that went 13-3 in the league and won the CIT. Remember, they were supposed to be a year away last season.
Eastern Kentucky loses a number of key pieces from last season, including Glenn Cosey, but with Corey Walden and Eric Stutz back, the Colonels should be a factor. Southeast Missouri State will be without Tyler Stone and Lucas Nutt, but they bring back three starters, including Jarekious Bradley, and look like the second-best team in the West. One team to keep an eye on: SIU-Edwardsville. They return four starters and their top six scorers from a team that went 7-9 in the league last year. With five seniors on the roster, if they are going to make a move, this is the year to do it.
PRESEASON OHIO VALLEY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Cam Payne, Murray State
Cam Payne played out of position throughout his freshman season, filling a role that was left vacant when Zay Jackson blew out his knee. But it didn’t matter, as the 6-foot-2 Memphis native finished the year averaging 16.8 points, 5.4 assists and 1.7 steals while making Racer fans quickly forget about Isaiah Canaan.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-OHIO VALLEY TEAM:
Jarvis Williams, Murray State, Sr.: The bully inside for the Racers. Williams will play Ed Daniels to Cam Payne’s Isaiah Canaan.
Craig Bradshaw, Belmont, Jr.: The next great guard to come through Rick Byrd’s pipeline. Bradshaw averaged 15.7 points as a sophomore.
Angelo Warner, Morehead State, Sr.: Warner was the leading scorer for Morehead State a season ago and will be the best player on arguably the league’s most talented team.
Jarekious Bradley, SEMO, Sr.: Bradley, a 6-foot-5 forward, was the third-leading scorer in the conference last season at 19.0 points.