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.
A quick disclaimer before I begin, because determining who qualifies as a mid-major and who doesn’t is always a touchy subject. Here is how we broke it down for these rankings: The Mountain West, the Big East, the Atlantic 10 and the American were all, by default, barred from these rankings. The WCC was eligible with the exception of Gonzaga and BYU. The Missouri Valley was eligible with the exception of Wichita State. Everyone else was fair game.
Why did we eliminate the Shockers from contention? Well, the complicated answer is that “high-major” delegation is more about financial resources, support from the university, the fan base and the community, and consistent, high-level success during the season and on the recruiting trail, but the simple answer is that the Shockers would be the clear-cut No. 1 team here and it’s more fun to do this without them involved. Our rankings, our rules. Deal with it.
Keifer Sykes, Green Bay, Sr. (20.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 4.9 apg): High-flying, high-scoring point guards aren’t that easy to find. Sykes is the reason that the Phoenix have a shot at winning a game-or-two in the NCAA tournament.
R.J. Hunter, Georgia State, Jr. (18.5 ppg, 39.5% 3PT): Yeah, I know he plays for Georgia State, but we picked him on this team because he may actually be the nation’s best spot-up shooter.
John Brown, High Point, Jr. (19.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 1.6 spg, 1.5 bpg): The nation’s highest-flying wing, Brown is the reigning Big South Player of the Year and a human-highlight reel.
Alan Williams, UC-Santa Barbara, Sr. (21.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.4 bpg): Williams has been a star at the mid-major level for three years now, but the Gauchos simply haven’t had the kind of success as a team that would garner him more national recognition.
Shawn Long, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jr. (18.6 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 2.7 bpg, 42.3% 3PT): It will be Long’s Ragin’ Cajuns team this season with Elfrid Payton now in the NBA. His ability to block shots and shoot threes at 6-foot-10 could mean that he winds up in the NBA Draft after this season as well.
Jalan West, Northwestern State, Jr. (19.4 ppg, 6.4 apg, 40.3% 3PT): His numbers are inflated by Northwestern State’s uptempo style of play. That doesn’t make him any less talented, however.
Daniel Mullings, New Mexico State, Sr. (16.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 3.5 apg): Mullings is the reigning WAC Player of the Year, and he’ll have a chance to play more point guard this season.
Wesley Saunders, Harvard, Jr. (14.2 ppg, 3.8 apg): Saunders was the Ivy League’s Player of the Year last season and should once again be the leading scorer on a Harvard team that has one a game in the tournament in back-to-back seasons.
Jacob Parker, Stephen F. Austin, Sr. (14.2 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 46.9% 3PT): Parker won last year’s Southland Player of the Year award and was the best player on a team that went 32-3 and beat VCU in the NCAA tournament.
Justin Sears, Yale, Jr. (16.9 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.9 bpg): Sears is our Preseason Ivy League Player of the Year and the biggest reason Yale has a chance to contend with Harvard for the Ivy title.
Siyani Chambers, Harvard, Jr. (11.1 ppg, 4.6 apg): The heart and soul of the Crimson. He’s one of the nation’s most underrated point guards.
Ryan Harrow, Georgia State, Sr. (17.8 ppg, 4.2 apg): The former Kentucky and N.C. State point guard found his niche back in his hometown of Atlanta.
Julius Brown, Toledo, Sr. (14.9 ppg, 6.0 apg): ‘Juice’ Brown helped lead the Rockets to a share of the MAC regular season title last season.
A.J. English, Iona, Jr. (17.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.9 rpg): English is the best player on an Iona team favored to win the always-competitive MAAC.
Cameron Payne, Murray State, So. (16.8 ppg, 5.4 apg, 1.7 spg): The Memphis-native had a terrific freshman season trying to replace the production left when Isaiah Canaan graduated.
HONORABLE MENTION: D.J. Balentine (Evansville), Joel Bolomboy (Weber State), Karl Cochran (Wofford), Brett Comer (Florida-Gulf Coast), Juan’Ya Green (Hofstra), Martez Harrison (UMKC), Tyler Harvey (Eastern Washington), Damion Lee (Drexel), Tshilidzi Nephawe (New Mexico State), Andrew Rowsey (UNC-Asheville), Bernard Thompson (Florida-Gulf Coast), Marcus Thornton (William & Mary), Seth Tuttle (Northern Iowa), Isiah Umipig (Seattle), Jameel Warney (Stony Brook), Kyle Wilson (Army)
Last season, Kerron Johnson propelled Belmont, in its first season as a conference member, to the Ohio Valley tournament title with a last-second bucket over Murray State. If all goes according to plan, the Bruins and the Racers will meet up again in the OVC championship game as they head into the field this season as the Nos. 1 and 2 teams, respectively. Although those two have byes into the semifinals, they will be hard-pressed to get back into the finals.
Eastern Kentucky, one of the league’s more well-balanced teams, can spoil that rematch as the three-seed. Morehead State has dropped three straight entering the tournament, but the Eagles played Belmont — a potential semifinal opponent — tight this season, losing by a combined seven points in two games. All the way toward the bottom of the bracket sits teams like No. 6 Southeast Missouri State, a team with enough offensive weapons to make a run.
Belmont may be playing in its hometown, but as the top seed, and eyeing the program’s fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament, Rick Byrd’s club with have a target on its back once again.
It’s tough to pick against the Bruins. Rick Byrd has built a well-respected program, and despite losing Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson, he’s got his team back in the hunt for another conference tournament title led by senior J.J. Mann, who has shined in his expanded role this season. Belmont once again challenged itself in non-league play with a 3-4 record against the RPI Top 100 and enters the conference tournament with six straight wins.
And if they lose?: Murray State
The Racers have been the royalty of the Ohio Valley Conference, last winning the title in 2012. Despite losing Isaiah Canaan, Ed Daniel and Stacy Wilson — and sophomore Zay Jackson — the Racers remain near the top of the standings, led by talented freshman guard Cameron Payne, who is top 10 in the conference in points and assists per game. Murray State begins postseason play on the heels of a double-overtime loss to Southeast Missouri State, which snapped a five-game winning streak.
Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels are one of the OVC’s most efficient teams on both sides of the ball. Though the glass is where they are most vulnerable.
Southeast Missouri State: Remember, this team was voted to ahead of Murray State in the preseason poll. We know the Redhawks have the scoring power, and if they get by Eastern Illinois in the first round, they’ll have an advantage on the boards against Eastern Kentucky in the quarterfinals. Riding a four-game winning streak, maybe SEMO is ready to make a postseason run.
J.J. Mann, Belmont: He’s had a tremendous season (i.e. game-winner in Chapel Hill), scoring 18.5 points and grabbing 4.8 rebounds per game. Well deserving of his OVC Player of the Year honor.
Cameron Payne, Murray State: Went for a season-high 29 against Belmont this season. Averaged 15.9 points and 5.6 assists per game as a freshman.
Glenn Cosey, Eastern Kentucky: A bump up in points and assists for the senior guard. He’s gone for 20 or more points 13 times this season.
Jarekious Bradley and Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri State: The duo both average more than 19 points per game, leading the high-power offensive attack.
CBT Prediction: Belmont over Southeast Missouri State