Adreian Payne said, “I was never 100 percent what I should do.” To which, MSU coach Tom Izzo quickly replied, “I thought you were really, really close when I left.”
Izzo felt Payne was heading to the NBA when he left Friday for an AAU tournament in Virginia. He even gave him the paperwork to file with the league.
Instead, Payne will return to the Spartans for his senior season, and they will become a slam dunk top-5 preseason pick.
Payne met with five agents last week, and Izzo felt it was a done deal by Friday that he was NBA-bound. All Payne had left was to meet with his high school coaches – who have been a major influence on the MSU junior even after arriving in East Lansing.
Payne said he made up his mind for good Saturday after meeting with them, but his prep coaches wanted him to sleep on it. Izzo said he was surprised to hear that and left Payne alone most Saturday while out recruiting. The coach didn’t know with full certainty that his big man was coming back until Izzo’s plane landed at Detroit’s Metro Airport around 6:40 p.m. Sunday.
“I listened to people and showed courtesy,” Payne said. “At end of day, it was my decision. And I made it.”
Most important off the court to Payne is that he’ll get his degree this time next year. It was something his grandmother, who raised him and died in August 2011, demanded of him and that he promised to her.
“With me graduating, I’m able to set a standard and be a role model for kids to look up to me,” said Payne, who needs just 14 credits after the spring semester.
On the court, he unabashedly declared that his goal is to win a national title. Payne said a few times that he wants to continue the streak of every four-year player under Izzo reaching a Final Four. He also talked about becoming a bigger leader – two things that jumped out to his coach.
“If it means something to you,” Izzo said, “it means you have ownership in the program.”
Izzo said he talked to a number of NBA general managers, and he felt good that Payne would have been a first-round pick whose “needle is pointing up” – meaning he could have played himself higher into the draft.
That’ll have to wait a year. Instead, the Spartans will now (finally and officially) only lose Derrick Nix for next year. They’ll gain big man Gavin Schilling and guard Alvin Ellis III.
And they’ll have the 6-foot-10 Payne now as both the physical anchor and emotional glue to make what they hope is another run to the Final Four outside of Dallas.
“It doesn’t matter if he was halfway out the door. What matters is he made a decision to come back inside…,” Izzo said. “Someday, when he does interview with an NBA team, he’s gonna have a helluva resume to put in front of him.”