This article should be prefaced with the fact that Adreian Payne was not available for comment. Then again, that is not news. A 6-9, shot-blocking center from Dayton Jefferson and a highly rated
recruit, Payne virtually always is mum on the subject of his college
outlook. It is clear however that Ohio State wants
him – now more than ever.
This article should be prefaced with the fact that Adreian Payne was not available for comment. Then again, that is not news.
A 6-9, shot-blocking center from Dayton Jefferson and a highly rated recruit, Payne virtually always is mum on the subject of his college outlook.
However, he has offered enough information on the topic to friends and reporters to suggest that he will give some level of consideration to a scholarship from Ohio State. It’s even clearer that the Buckeyes want him – now more than ever.
Early last week, Ohio State men’s basketball coach Thad Matta raised eyebrows once again by pulling in a pair of topflight junior guards in 6-4 Jordan Sibert of Cincinnati Princeton and 6-3 Lenzelle Smith of Zion (Ill.) Zion-Benton. They were added to a now stacked 2010 class that already included 6-8 post player Jared Sullinger of Columbus Northland, 6-7 forward DeShaun Thomas of Fort Wayne (Ind.) Bishop Luers and 6-5 swingman Cameron Wright of Cleveland Benedictine.
With that group assembled and with potentially nothing on the horizon in regards to current high school seniors, Payne is now OSU’s top target without question. In fact, there doesn’t appear to be anyone to leverage against him.
The father of 6-10 center Daniel Orton of Oklahoma City, the lone 2009 prepster the Buckeyes appeared to be chasing, recently said his son is favoring Kentucky. Orton still lists seven schools and Kansas and Ohio State are allegedly on the second tier below Kentucky right now.
The 2010 big men that were on OSU’s radar fell off quickly, most notably 6-8 Josh Hairston of Spotsylvania (Va.) Courtland, who recently opted for Duke. A couple others who were never offered by Ohio State but were in the discussion – 6-9 Markus Kennedy of Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick and 6-8 Will Regan of Williamsville (N.Y.) Nichols – are now looking elsewhere.
Therefore, it appears clear – and imperative – that Matta will now zero in on Payne, a top-25 recruit according to some services.
“I think our next target is Payne,” Sibert told Bucknuts.com soon after he committed. “That’s who I’m going after. I’m trying to get Adreian to come next.
Sibert and Sullinger played with Payne all summer on the highly successful All-Ohio Red AAU 16-and-under national championship team that also included Dayton commitment Juwan Staten, Tennessee commitment Aaron Craft and forward J.D. Weatherspoon, a high-wire act and teammate of Sullinger’s at Northland.
Both Sibert and Sullinger say they are now focused on helping the OSU coaching staff secure Payne, but that is easier said than done. Payne doesn’t even like to discuss his recruiting with his friends and teammates and hasn’t shed much light on the situation publicly of late.
He made an unofficial visit to West Virginia this past weekend and has said he is interested in the Mountaineers. Payne was supposed to make a visit to Tennessee earlier this summer but did not make the trek south to Knoxville. Other schools he has mentioned with some consistency include Cincinnati, Xavier and Dayton. Most close to Payne believes he doesn’t want to stray far from home. He lives with his grandmother in Dayton and is very close to her.
Sibert admitted Payne is still a tough read at this point.
“That’s true – it is really hard to tell with Adreian,” he said. “But Jared and I are going to work on him. I’m sure of that.”
Sullinger is one of the most well-known, well-respected and overt recruits in the country, so he will be asked to stay in contact with Payne and he will gladly concur. However, he said even he’s not sure how much influence he can have on the aloof center.
“As far as that goes, nobody really knows because Adreian is kind of secretive with his recruiting,” said Sullinger, the top-rated junior in the country according to some services. “He doesn’t tell you anything. Whatever happens, happens with him. Hopefully he comes to Ohio State.”
Payne averaged 15.4 points per game and was a force on the boards and in altering shots defensively as a sophomore at Jefferson. He was named second-team all-state in Division IV after the season and his stock shot up from there while putting his talents on display with mighty All-Ohio Red.
Payne is still raw in certain stages of his development and isn’t consistent shooting outside of the paint but it’s difficult not to marvel at his athleticism for his size and his potential, particularly when he sprints down the floor, swats a jumper to the stands or throws down a follow dunk.
Make no mistake, the Buckeyes covet him – Sullinger included.
“We’re looking to have him,” he said. “We’re working on getting him to come to Ohio State. But it’s hard for me to help if he doesn’t open up his recruitment, and right now he’s not opening up. So it’s hard to know what to say to him. I want to feed him information but he just does the block, the block, the block thing and it’s like, `OK, whatever.’
“That’s a problem. He’s taking the information but he’s not really listening to it because he doesn’t know what he wants to do yet. If he would give me his top-five schools I could give him some information and maybe he’d understand then. But not right now.”
Payne has told Bucknuts.com in the past that he is not in a hurry to decide.
“He doesn’t put a lot of time and thought into it,” Sullinger said. “He does what he has to do and he takes it all in. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know what he wants to do, which is why I don’t know yet. From what I know Ohio State is on his list and West Virginia is on his list and there are many more schools after that, so he has a lot of narrowing down to do.”
Sullinger agrees that it is almost impossible to read Payne, but he also likes to be around him despite his eccentricities.
“He’s a goofball,” Sullinger said. “He clowns around a lot. He says stuff that’s not funny, but he makes it funny because his laugh is so funny, the way it sounds.”
“But I think he is starting to see what’s ahead. Coach Q (All-Ohio Red coach Quentin Rogers) is starting to show him what he needs to do and I think Adreian is starting to learn the game of basketball and also understand the offcourt things that he has to do.”
Whether or not Payne joins the party, OSU’s 2010 class is almost assuredly a top-five haul nationally with so many five-star talents.
“If he does commit, great,” Sibert said. “If not, then I still think we have a great class.”
Payne, though, could put Ohio State over the top – both in terms of class rankings and eventual notice in the in-season national polls.
“It would make me speechless, I know that much,” Sullinger said. “I’d be even more anxious to see what we can do.
“With DeShaun I think we have one of the most dominant players. When I see him play I see it’s kind of hard to stop him. Lenzelle, looking at his highlights, I see he can pass the ball and if you can get in the lane with the players we have we’re going to be able to create good shots.”
Smith said he doesn’t spend much time following player rankings and checking out recruiting information on websites. He also said he was not affected by Sibert’s decision to commit to Ohio State, which came on Sept. 20, one day prior to his fateful call to Matta.
“I talked to the coaches and asked them how they see me fitting in,” Smith told Bucknuts.com. “For the most part, Coach Matta told me about his vision. I asked him about all the other recruits and he said that he thinks we all can play together pretty well. So as long as we can get out there on the court together I don’t have any problems.”
Smith made a visit to OSU in August, which pretty much sold him on the decision. Even after announcing his decision at his school early last week he still made good on a pledge to return and visited campus again this past weekend. Sullinger made sure to come by so the two could chat and get to know each other better.
“He seemed comfortable with (the decision),” Sullinger said. “He’s a cool guy to hang around with.
“He’s going to be a good addition to the team. Lenzelle, he’s a cool guy. Everything has been playing out like I expected, especially since I decided to go to Ohio State.”
That plan – apparently the same one Matta crafted – has included adding Sibert, a fearless wing who played a starring role all summer on the AAU circuit.
“With Jordan, I actually thought we had a good chance because I had been talking to him almost every day about Ohio State,” Sulling said. “Half the time he was texting me and talking about it.”
Sibert made sure to inform Sullinger right away after he told Matta in person at the OSU-Troy game that he wanted to be a Buckeye.
“He was just blown away,” Sibert said, recalling the phone call to Sullinger. “He was just too happy. I called him and I said something to him and he said, `Say no more.’ He was too happy to talk and got off the phone.”
The class no longer includes 6-2 guard Trae Golden of Powder Springs (Ga.) McEachern, who decommitted on July 4. However, Matta is now loaded with backcourt firepower in the form of the Sibert-Smith-Wright combo. All of them seem to welcome the competition ahead.
“I talked to Coach Matta about it and he said he’s going to play whoever is producing,” Sibert said. “If it’s a battle to get playing time then I’m willing to battle for it. All champions like challenges. If I have to battle for my spot that’s what I’ll do.”
Smith is a long-armed lefty who can finish around the basket but is considered a combo guard who could get a look at the point at Ohio State. Apparently, he and fellow Chicago-area star Anthony Johnson were contacted after Sibert committed and were told that only one guard spot remained in the class.
Sibert and Wright also possess above-average ball handling skills but likely are more valuable off the ball.
“I think I’m recruited right now to be a wing, but a guard spot won’t be bad,” Sibert said. “I think I can play it. I’ll work on my handle and my jump shot enough. I think I could even play point guard because I’m willing to pass, I’m unselfishness. So I think I can play back there but right now it looks like I’m going in as just a wing.
Meanwhile, Thomas is a highly athletic, left-handed wing who many consider a top-10 talent. He can score in bunches and is supremely talented on the boards and on the move.
The wide-bodied Sullinger is known for his brute strength, soft hands, keen court sense and consistency. He is a 20-point, 10-rebound performer on a regular basis both for Northland and All-Ohio Red and so far no one in his age category has slowed him down.
The addition of Payne would allow Sullinger to play his projected position – power forward – but he said he will man the center spot if necessary.
“If they need me to be a five-man, I don’t have a problem doing it,” he said. “Whatever it takes to win the games. I’ll be the five-man the sixth man or the last man on the bench, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
That kind of unselfish, winning attitude combined with great talent may in fact define the 2010 class at Ohio State – even if Payne is not a pet of it.
“I think this class could be really special,” Sibert said. “I think we have the pieces and we have the tools in order. All we have to do is get them all there, and that’s what we’re really working on right now. As long as we can do that I think we’ll be OK. It’s a special school with a special class trying to do something special.”