Cameron Payne: "I Was Starstruck From The Beginning"
By Randy Renner
It never hurts to have a couple of recruiters who also happen to be two of the biggest superstars in basketball.
When Murray State point guard Cameron Payne came to Oklahoma City for an individual workout before the draft guess who greeted him when he walked through the door?
"The first time I was here I saw Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, so that was a big time plus and they greeted me by my name, so I was starstruck from the beginning," Payne said during his introductory news conference inside Oklahoma City's mammoth Devon Tower.
That workout turned into a day and a half visit. Payne was not only shown around the Thunder facilities and the arena but he also visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial and was shown some other places around town.
"Everybody on the staff just welcomed me with open arms and this city and what they do for the Thunder is just great. The whole city comes together to watch the Thunder play and it's just fantastic. It's like a big time college out here."
Payne was one of several players the Thunder were targeting leading up to the NBA Draft. GM Sam Presti told reporters on Saturday the team had narrowed that list down as the draft got closer and also had plans in place to jump at a chance to move up, a chance to move down (though Presti didn't like that option much) and a chance to move all the way out of the draft.
By the time things started Thursday night the Thunder were pretty much decided on Payne, there was just too much to like about him, both as a player and a person.
"As a player he's incredibly cerebral, he understands space, he understands angles, he understand time" said Presti. "All of these things that are really hard to teach he has those things intuitively. And as a person he was equally impressive."
The Thunder have always wanted to bring in a certain type of player, a player that embraced team and community. A player that embraced sacrifice and hard work. That seems to be exactly the kinda guy Cameron Payne is.
"He has no assumptions," Presti said. "He doesn't feel entitled to anything, he's had to work for everything he's had and most importantly the people who have known him throughout his life, say he's the same guy."
That probably has to do most with the way his parents raised him and the Payne family attended the news conference sitting on the front row with Thunder Chairman Clay Bennett and head coach Billy Donovan.
"I never could have done it without you guys," Payne said to his parents. "Ya'll raised me the right way."
Part of that upbringing included lots and lots of basketball.
As for that great court vision Payne has and that ability to find open teammates? Well you can credit that certainly to God given talent but also give a lot of credit to the Payne family.
"I grew up in a household full of point guards and my dad he was the first point guard of us all and he taught me very young, you gotta get everybody involved, so I grew up being a team player, that's all I know."
Payne knows he has to get better and has to get stronger and bigger physically to go up against the best the NBA has to offer.
It would be nice if he could begin his Thunder career at the Orlando Summer League which begins July 4th but he broke a finger on his right (non-shooting) hand during a workout for the Nuggets in Denver.
He'll spend time with Thunder team doctors on Monday to decide how best to proceed but more than likely you can scratch Payne from any playing time in Orlando though he does plan to go to Florida with the team and at least get to know the staff and whatever future teammates might be playing. The Thunder haven't announced their full Summer League roster yet but at least two or three of the younger Thunder players should be there in addition to all the free agents.
He'll then begin training camp as the team's third point guard behind Westbrook and D.J. Augustin who's contract runs out at the end of next season. Right now the plan appears to be learn from Westbrook and Augustin, get playing time when you can and be ready to take over the backup role in 2016-17.
And if Cam Payne can some how force the Thunder to think about moving up that timetable, so much the better. But the Thunder have enough talent and enough patience to let him get better at his own pace while learning from the best in the game.