Sophomore point guard Cameron Payne is the face of the Racers as they coast on a 20-game win streak. As the newest member of Murray State’s 1,000-point club, tied for 18th in the nation in assists per game and 25th nationally in points per game with averages of 5.8 and 19.4, respectively, Payne’s stats show his success on the court. But what is it that makes Payne so special? According to Head Men’s Basketball Coach Steve Prohm, he’s just really freaking good.
“He’s just so well-rounded,” Prohm said. “He’s got all the intangibles. He’s got the character. He’s a student athlete. He’s got a great family. He’s got a great personality. We’ve been blessed to coach him. For however long we get to, he’s been a special, special player. He’s terrific.”
Before taking the Murray State basketball program by storm, Payne was a shorter, slower version of himself at Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, Tenn. At an academically-centered school that prides itself in preparing students for college and life in a global environment, Payne found himself playing basketball for Head Boys’ Basketball Coach Kenneth White. Just like Prohm, White knew from their first encounter that there was something special about Payne.
“He walked into practice and he was probably five-foot-nothing,” White said. “Believe it or not, he was probably 5’4” at the time, as a freshman. He had a real high-pitched voice – hadn’t hit puberty yet. But he just kind of walked in with his chest out and I was like, ‘Who is this kid?’ You could see his confidence right away.”
Payne may have grabbed the attention of his high school coach, but he is no stranger to being overlooked. The son of Tony Payne, a well-known coach on the Amateur Athletic Union basketball circuit, Cam has been playing basketball since he was four and was often stigmatized as a “coach’s son.” White attributes much of Cam’s success to this chip on his shoulder, and Cam agrees.
“He pushed me to the limit,” Cam said. “He pushed me hard. Growing up, it was like, ‘That’s the only reason why he’s playing, because his dad’s the coach.’ That’s where it began – me not getting noticed and getting love. Because it’s just, ‘My dad’s the coach. That’s the reason he’s playing,’ – even though I was an impact. Him being the coach, man, I learned a lot.”
Cam was overlooked again as he began the college recruiting process and despite many offers, high-major schools missed his talent. Mid-major Murray State found Cam early and earned his loyalty quickly. Cam’s loyalty is one of the things White loves most about him, and he believes Cam’s dedication to Murray State contributes to the success he has found there.
“He felt like that was the best fit for him,” White said. “And undoubtedly, it proved to be the best fit. Socially he’s thriving, academically he’s doing well, and from a basketball standpoint he’s continuing to thrive as well. I couldn’t have imagined him going to a better place than Murray State.”
From Cam’s point of view, the attention on him is crazy.
“I’ve never been a part of something like this,” Cam said. “It’s just a blessing because I wasn’t expected to be in any type of situation like this coming out of high school. I thought the only way you get that type of love is at a high-major, and I wasn’t set to go to a high-major. The fans, they’re great. I wouldn’t want any other set of fans than Racer Nation.”
With so many eyes on him, Cam knows his behavior on and off the court are both top-priority. He watches himself daily to make sure his behavior is consistent, but he doesn’t find it too difficult as he considers himself a playful, happy person by nature.
In addition to his playfulness, Cam is hard-working. As NBA scouts scatter the sideline at recent practices and games, Cam is working hard to make sure he doesn’t go under the radar again.
“Every time we come to the game we see scouts here,” Cam said. “We’ve got scouts here in practice. That makes me work even harder. When you look at it, it’s like, I’m that close. Don’t let the opportunity slip away. So that’s what really gets me going harder. Success as a whole gets me going, because I never want to not be successful.”
Cam’s IQ for the game is what makes him successful as a player, according to Prohm, and Cam attributes this as God-given. Although he doesn’t study teams, Cam studies individual players, such as Tony Parker of the San Antonio Spurs, in order to better himself.
In his two years at Murray State, Cam has worked to make improvements and mature as a player. Now, he is working toward a championship ring, the thing he missed out on his freshman year as his attempted 3-point buzzer-beater bounced off the rim. In high school, Cam found himself in an eerily similar situation. During an elimination game in the Tennessee state quarterfinals, White took a chance on Cam. Despite having older, more mature players preparing to play at the collegiate level, White trusted Cam in his rookie years, just as Prohm trusts Cam now.
“We drew up a play for him to take the last shot,” White said. “That’s how much we believed in him. Now he didn’t hit the shot, so he had to go through that maturation process and growing pains, but we saw something in him very early.”
Thrown into the fire as point guard, Cam was named OVC Freshman of the Week nine times last season, and matured right before fans’ eyes. Cam’s No. 1 fan, LeShawn Payne, sits courtside with Tony at every game, and Cam fondly refers to her as mom.
“She’s my biggest fan,” Cam said. “When she’s not there, man, you don’t hear that voice. They’ve been some road warriors for me. They got me to where I’m at today. And it’s just a blessing to have them at the games, especially in college.”
Before games, Cam has swapped his old habit of eating gummy worms and gummy bears for listening to music. Meek Mill is often in his earbuds, because he raps about being slept on and not getting proper recognition – a story all too familiar to Cam.
After games and during down-time, Cam finds himself playing video games, but most of all Trivia Crack, of which he proudly proclaims himself the team champion. Cam often plays Racer fans online in Call of Duty and NBA 2k14, the first of which he often loses. The latter he refuses to take a loss in, however, as he hopes to be on the game someday.
Despite his accolades, it is in those small, normal things that Cam sees himself.
“There’s nothing unique about me,” Cam said. “There’s not. I’m a regular young man. I don’t do nothing out of the ordinary.”
While most people would disagree with him in that regard, they won’t get the chance to outscore Cam on the court. He would, however, like to give anyone a chance to challenge him in Trivia Crack. Add his handle: Swagin3.
Story by Mallory Tucker, Sports Editor