Jefferson’s Payne Emerges As One Of Ohio’s Top Sophomores


Jefferson’s Adreian Payne

Despite his vast potential, 6-9 sophomore center Adreian
Payne of Dayton Jefferson somehow has managed to stay in the recruiting shadows. He’s a tad shy when discussing his future, and unlike highly talented
AAU teammates and classmates Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) and Juwan
Staten (Dayton), who already have offered up verbal commitments, he is
nowhere close to ready to decide on his college choice.

Despite his long frame and vast potential, 6-9 sophomore center Adreian Payne of Dayton Jefferson somehow has managed to stay in the shadows when it comes to recruiting.

He’s a tad shy when discussing his future, and unlike highly talented AAU teammates and classmates Jared Sullinger (Ohio State) and Juwan Staten (Dayton), who already have offered up verbal commitments, he is nowhere close to ready to decide on his college choice.

However, Payne doesn’t figure to be underpublicized or undervalued much longer. He’s already off to an impressive start to his offseason and knows the recruiting game is only going to heat up as he continues to shine for All-Ohio Red.

“I think it’s too early (to commit) right now, because you never know what can happen or what’s going to happen,” he told recently. “So think it’s best for you to wait – but not wait too long.

“It’s time to start paying more attention now because I’m getting older and I’m about to be a junior. I’ve got to get to know the coaches a little more and see what it’s like there if I went there, stuff like that.”

Payne said he wants to concentrate on finishing up his sophomore year in good shape academically so he can concentrate on his AAU season and begin to sort through his list. So far, four schools have come through with offers – Xavier, Dayton, Cincinnati and West Virginia – and others, such as Ohio State, are following him closely.

OSU associate head coach John Groce is considered the program’s main recruiter for Payne, who averaged 15.4 points per game as a soph and was named first-team all-Southwest district after the season. The youngster also has expressed interest in many other schools in the past, including Louisville, North Carolina, Memphis and UCLA. If he continues to improve and stay on top of his books, he can expect overtures from some of those caliber programs as well as the entire Big Ten.

Payne was listed 6-8 and 210 pounds before the season but he’s all of 6-9, 220 now and seems to get better at every turn. A long-armed shot blocker with quickly developing offensive skills, Payne is the kind of prospect that lures recruiters even more on his capability and potential than his actual production.

However, his production is more than solid. At the Buckeye Prep Invitational April 4-6 in Columbus, Payne was outstanding throughout. In the Sunday afternoon Pool A title game for 16-Under competition, he equaled frontline mates Sullinger and J.D. Weatherspoon of Columbus Northland with nine points and also swatted away several shots and dominated on the glass. All-Ohio Red’s imposing balance was on display as Staten, a 5-10 point guard from Dayton Thurgood Marshall, scored 10 points and Jordan Sibert, a 6-4 off-guard from Cincinnati Princeton, also contributed from the backcourt with a team-high 14 points in a 69-43 whitewashing of the Detroit All-Stars.

“They’re playing good,” Payne said of the All-Ohio Red guards. “They’re picking up full court and attacking, and you’ve got to have a lot of wind to do that. It really helps to have good guards who can penetrate and dish it off.”

It also helps to have a supreme athlete like the 6-6 Weatherspoon and a versatile forward in the form of the 6-8 Sullinger, who is considered one of the top sophomores in the nation.

As one might expect, Payne enjoys having Sullinger as a cohort inside.

“Yeah, I like that, because if one guy isn’t open the other one is open,” he said. “They can’t double-team both. We’ve just got that little chemistry and bond. We know where each other is going to be on the court. We’ve just got to start talking and get that back because it’s been a while since we’ve been together on the court. We’re pretty good friends.”

Sullinger smiled broadly when asked about teaming with Payne.

“It’s fun,” he said. “I can just step out a little bit. But A.J. is not just fun on the offensive end. On the defensive end he blocks shots and he gets the rebounds that you’re supposed to get. He just takes them out of your hands. Plus, with him you’re always laughing because off the court he’s a goofy guy.”

Through all the kidding and off-the-court fun, Sullinger manages to put in a good word for Ohio State.

“He talks to me about it,” Payne said. “He tells me about them. He tells me how he thinks I should come down there. He said that they are interested in me and that if they offer me I should come down there. That’s it.”

Sullinger said he keeps the message simple, however.

“I love him and Ohio State loves him,” he said. “I don’t know why he doesn’t just go ahead and say, `I want to be a Buckeye.’ But his time will come. I’m pretty sure whatever decision he makes is going to be good for him. I’m not going to force him into a decision that he doesn’t want to make.”

Actually, there is a simple reason why Payne is not yet in the Ohio State family: The OSU coaching staff has not yet offered him. Plus, Payne still has his eyes very wide open.

“They’re on my list and they’re recruiting me but they haven’t offered yet,” he confirmed. “I’m going to continue to play wherever I go so I’m not too worried about it.

“I haven’t really knocked any (schools) off my list because I haven’t gotten to know their college and been around and seen what the environment is like.”

Payne wants to do that in the offseason, but he also has a full agenda of AAU ball to juggle. After he and Sullinger led All-Ohio Red to the 15-Under national title last summer, they wanted to start strong at the Buckeye Prep Invitational.

“It was our goal to win it,” he said. “We just had to come out with intensity and keep it through the whole tournament, and we tried to stay consistent, play as a team, work together and listen to the coach. More than anything we worked on defense.”

Sullinger is considered the top prospect in Ohio among 2010 recruits and many of the analysts, including Chris Johnson of Hoop Scoop, list Payne right behind him as No. 2. Ohio State already has commitments from four well-rated 2010 prospects – Sullinger, 6-7 DeShaun Thomas of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Leurs, 6-5 swingman Cameron Wright of Cleveland Benedictine and 6-2 combo guard Trae Golden of Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern.

Considered a top-three prospect among sophomores nationally, Thomas is still considered a “soft” verbal who plans to make visits to other schools. Golden leaped into elite status last summer and turned in a monster season at McEachern. Wright is a coming player with high levels of athleticism and a developing game. The most recent edition of Ohio High Magazine listed Wright at No. 4 in the 2010 class among in-state players behind Sullinger, Payne and Staten.

In fact, Ohio State, which is still in search of a big man to complete the class, didn’t hurt itself with Payne in October as he was on campus for the Buckeyes’ preseason public scrimmage and got to hang out with Golden and Wright, who committed within hours of that visit.

“That was cool, but it was a long time ago,” he said. “I got to know those guys a little bit. I’ve just got a lot more to see and do.”

Payne was supposed to make a follow-up visit to Ohio State during the season but canceled a scheduled trip because of the sudden and tragic death of a friend of his. He said basketball is a healthy diversion for him, especially knowing there is potential trouble lurking out there for those with not much to do. That’s another reason why he likes the full AAU schedule.

“It’s better than doing other stuff and getting into stupid stuff,” he said. “It keeps my head out of the streets. I’m doing something I like to do, and it’s fun.”

Even now, though, Payne knows more serious decisions are ahead for him, not the least of which his impending choice of school. He’ll seek knowledge and advice when that time comes, but most of all he plans to look into his own heart.

“I listen to everybody but I don’t let them control my decision,” he said. “I’m going to base it on how I feel if I go to the college, because they’re not going to be going there, I am.

“I want to get educated first then play basketball.”

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