As MSU progressed into the 2012-2013 season Adreian Payne’s game continued to grow. So much so that now he is faced with a very big decision: does he stay at MSU or move on to the NBA. Tom Izzo summed it up great earlier this week.
Izzo said, “We’ll get the best situation for Adreian. He’s got his high school coach, his assistant coach back home, myself, and we’re gonna sit down and figure out what’s best for his situation. Right now, I have no clue. I think in a lot of ways, it would benefit him to come back. But depending on what he’s projected as would determine my advice for him. I’m trying to keep in the fact – I got calls yesterday that, look at Trey Burke in our state and how he bettered himself, look at the guys from Florida a couple years ago – they both bettered themselves. I’ve been warned on this – it’s hard to say what pick will he be matters. Some of you would say he’s the 10th pick; he’s the fifth pick, the 27th pick. It’s when are you mature enough to handle, both physically and mentally, the grind that keeps you in for longevity, not a cup of coffee. What hasn’t been talked about is the number of guys who’ve been in for a cup of coffee.”
Izzo went on to elaborate that, “In saying all that, Adreian Payne has been about as model a kid as we could have had – what he’s done in school, what he’s done in our community, what he’s done, his improvement in basketball. There is no way I would want anything but the best for Adreian Payne. And yet, I will voice my opinion when it’s time to, on what I think is right.”
For Izzo the looming decision isn’t going to be swayed with Izzo being selfish. Far from it. Payne has been Izzo single greatest accomplishment, from a young man perspective since he took over for Jud. Off the court, on the court, in the class room and socially Payne is a different man.
Izzo got nostalgic about Payne’s progress, “The neat part about Adreian is, as has been well publicized – his academic struggles early in high school and what he’s done. I think he’s gonna be 15 hours away from graduating after this semester, maybe 20. It’s almost incredible. How much of that plays a part? You get to go to the Final Fours, that’s an individual thing. I’ve had some players, the Cleaveses, the Magics – I didn’t have him, but when I look back on players, Steve Smith, those were part of their goals. So they stayed to fulfill their dreams and goals. But every kid’s a little different on that. We’ll be looking into that.”
So for the average fan who may not know, what is the process going to be like for Payne over the next several days? Izzo let you in to take a look behind the process. “Well, before you submit anything, they have an advisory board for (underclassmen), they get about six to eight GMs to get input from everybody, to give you some clue. And then with that clue, you can put your name in or not. But I’m also calling friends of mine or just cold calling some guys, and I’m asking his high school coach and assistant coach.”
He went on, “You know, it’s such a delicate area, because you’ve got to realize who you’re dealing with here. You’re dealing with agents that are gonna be telling guys one thing. You’re dealing with media who are gonna be telling … Joe Fan, who’s gonna be, the days of texting and tweeting. So you’ve got all those things. So what I want to make sure is done is me, Art, Mark and AP are on the same page each and every day, so no one can wedge in between us, because there’s kids that have to make decisions every year. And then there’s some kids that you really are concerned with their decisions, because they don’t have a lot of people around them. AP doesn’t have a lot of people around him, and I just want to make sure he does the right thing for Adreian Payne.”
Izzo knows that the loss of Payne is a real possibility so in the midst of looking out for Payne he has to worry about next year for the Spartans. “It’ll work out for us either way. We’ll still suit up a team if he’s gone and we’ll still be damn good if he’s gone. Does it maybe take us to a new level? Are you seeing more kids staying in? Does he have some added incentives with graduation and all the situations he’s been in? Yes. Are people gonna tell him ‘Are you worried about injuries?’ or ‘Are you worried about not getting better?’ First thing I told him, ‘We can make this real easy. If you’re not gonna work as hard from now until next March as you did from last March until this March, leave. Go immediately. Don’t worry about nothing; just put your name in. Because you will go downhill.’ And there are a lot of people that do that.”
Does Izzo think Payne has checked out? No way. He said, “And that’s why when I walked in here Sunday, went to church, you know, Easter Sunday, took Steven out to breakfast, and I came in here and AP was here. I saw him out at breakfast but he was here, watching film and shooting. So I have no doubt he has All-American qualities and a lot of good things could happen. I have no doubt he’ll get better which would improve his draft pick wherever he goes. But it just depends on what’s out there and what people think of him, and we’ll make an educated decision. He’ll make the final decision. I’ll give him educated information, the best I can.”
Izzo is also keenly aware that if Payne were to stay he could do some special things. Some very special things. “If he makes the same steps he made from his sophomore to his junior year and stays healthy, that kid has a chance to hang his own banner in the building.”
Like a father, and make no mistake that Izzo is like one to Payne, he has to look at all sides of the equation. Izzo showed the emotion that he has to at least consider now in advising Payne. “Yeah, I think there is a benefit to not putting your name in because the NBA doesn’t care. They’re gonna figure out who is what, so I don’t know if that matters. What matters is if you’re gonna keep it in and they’re gonna draft you. I don’t know, there’s a lot of people you got to be fair to. Is it fair to the teammates on the team if a star guy is not coming back and you can’t do anything? Is it fair to the player, you know? What would be fair is if you change the rules so there wasn’t so much pressure on these guys, if you ask me, in my opinion. … No change, so that you get a longer period of time that you don’t have to be under that kind of pressure. In other words if it was a two- or three-year rule.”
He went on, “In Payne’s case it wouldn’t matter because he’d be in that same situation, but we got to remember even him, he lost his whole freshman year with the shoulder and knee injury. I thought as much as he grew basketball wise, I thought he grew maturity wise more. What’s dumb is we look back at different things that happened, that goofy little incident in Penn State maybe it helped him. I said maybe it did, maybe it did because he realized what some little negative thing can do. I saw more focus after that. Everything hits guys in a different way.”
Does Izzo like the rule about how long a player can look before taking his name out of consideration and still keeping college eligibility? “As far as the rule goes, the longer you drag it out too, I mean you should be able to get some idea from the NBA. The longer it drags out the more middle people get involved and that was getting to be a zoo. The more illegal things can happen and that was getting to be a zoo. It’s like making a decision on a school, for the most part after you get a little bit of information, you visit the schools, what’s gonna change? The school colors stay the same, the pep band’s the same, everything is the same, so it’s a tough decision for a kid, but if it ends up that tough, it’s probably not worth the chance unless the kid needs to because he’s flunking out of school or he’s had problems.”
Izzo zeroed in and made it even more clear, “To me to make a major decision like that when you still have the opportunity to come back it better be pretty clear cut. If it’s a coin flip, I wouldn’t be going I would be staying unless I decided, you know what, I’m not that hard a worker, I don’t want to work all summer, I had a good year so let’s hit the road. And that’s the first thing I told him. If you’re thinking that, don’t even bother putting your name in and just declare and that’s it. Of course, I know he’s gonna work cause I saw what a year did.”
That father figure came out again as Izzo looked back at how far Payne has come. “I think Adreian Payne, he went from a guy that didn’t even like watching basketball, he never watched any games. Now he knows some of the players on some of the teams even. I’m jacked for that. That’s a step. I can tell you a lot of other players that didn’t and it would surprise you. I’ll go back because he’s in town still, Pep wasn’t a guy that watched. Some guys don’t, but you gotta have a passion for what you’re doing if you’re really gonna do those things. I think no question in my mind that Adreian Payne right now is more ready than a lot of guys that will go. I think. Physically he’s definitely more ready. I think he’s still got some growth to make and yet as I get a better clue on who they’re looking at in front of him and who they’re looking at behind him, I’ll be able to give you a better advice. I definitely, I don’t have any faith in some of the projections. Some are good, some are bad. I watched it during the year, just because an assistant would say something and a guy’d have a good game and he’d be a top-10 pick. Guy have a bad game and you didn’t even see him in the top 30. It just goes so much that way. So I think that’s what makes it hard for the guys.”
No matter what choice Payne makes there is no doubt that his coach, friend, counselor, advocate, butt kicker and mentor will be right by his side. Tom Izzo is showing how the job he has is more than head basketball coach. He gets paid to do the rest; this is what Izzo does for fun. This is why so many hired after Izzo have been fired and he still has a job.