From earning a starting spot on the varsity middle school team as a lowly sixth-grader to leading his high school team to a state championship as a senior, freshman guard Cameron Payne has met every challenge thrown his way.
Perhaps the greatest challenge begins tonight, however, as the Memphis-area native will be asked to lead the Murray State offense in his first collegiate game.
Payne arrived at Murray State prepared to play off the bench while learning Head Coach Steve Prohm’s system.
The plan quickly changed, however, when sophomore guard Zay Jackson tore his ACL in an early October practice.
A few days later, Payne saw the news on Twitter and confirmed it with Prohm.
He would be the Racers’ starting point guard.
“I was shocked when I heard,” Payne said. “I knew that I could do it, I just thought I was going to come off the bench. When I found out I felt I had to get better and I wanted to fulfill that role.”
The first call Payne made was to the man who introduced him to the sport at the age of three.
“I called my dad,” Payne said. “No one knew and I told him. He knew I was going to get there someday. He just said I need to get better.”
Payne said his dad has been a key influence throughout his life on and off the basketball court. When it came time to choose a school, Payne knew he wanted to stay close to home so his dad could see him play.
“My dad has been to 99 percent of all my basketball games,” Payne said. “I knew when I made my decision that my family would want to be able to see me play. Murray State allowed that to happen.”
Payne was targeted by Prohm’s staff early in the recruiting process.
As a sophomore in high school, the first school to contact the standout guard was Murray State. From that point on, Payne was destined to become a Racer.
Payne was the Racers’ first verbal commitment last year and signed his letter of intent during the early signing period last November.
He then went on to lead his high school team to a Tennessee state championship.
Fast forward several months and it seems as if Payne is ready to continue his success at the next level.
Despite the uncertainty that comes with a freshman point guard, Payne is confident he can get the job done.
“I have good basketball I.Q.,” Payne said. “I know the game well and I’m a pretty good shooter. I know how to keep my teammates involved and keep them happy because I know all their strengths. I feel I can run the team.”
The newest Racer backed up the talk last Saturday during a scrimmage against Freed Hardeman. Payne made a good first impression with the fans, scoring nine points and dishing out eight assists while leading an effective Racer offense to a 95-68 victory.
Though he admitted an OVC Freshman of the Year award would be a nice addition to his long list of accolades, Payne is more focused on the team’s goals.
“I want to get our team to the OVC championship,” Payne said. “I want to go to my first NCAA Tournament. I’m more set on our team goals because I feel if our team is doing good, everyone is going to get noticed.”
Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer