Without Adreian Payne, the Michigan State Spartans would be a solid top-15 NCAA basketball team in 2013-14.
With Payne, the Spartans will be a solid a top-five team and national title contender.
The Spartans forward announced Sunday that he would return to East Lansing for his senior year of eligibility despite reports stating that he would likely be a late first-round pick in the 2013 NBA draft. The 6’10” junior had until midnight Sunday to declare for the draft.
Although the Spartans will have work to do to replace center Derrick Nix, they’re certainly breathing a little easier now that Payne will be around for another year.
As one of the country’s most improved all-around threats, Payne showcased a vast array of NBA-worthy skills during his junior year. Shots from the perimeter, mid-range jumpers and an increase in physical play around the basket transformed Payne from a borderline pro to a legitimate NBA big man.
“I’m [going to] stay my senior year and try to get us to a championship,” Payne told reporters at a press conference (via Joe Rexrode, The Lansing State Journal). “That’s the most important thing. … It was a hard decision.”
Payne said the following about his decision, according to NBC Sports’ Raphielle Johnson:
This has been a very difficult decision for me to make, but I’m excited to be returning to Michigan State for my senior year. I’ve had a lot of people asking what I was going to do, but I had to take my time to make the right decision.
I’ve always wanted to play in the NBA, but one more year at MSU is the right decision for me.
Spartans Will Benefit from Payne’s Senior Leadership
Senior leadership has been a bit of an issue during the past few years for Michigan State. Other than Draymond Green in 2012, Michigan State hasn’t really had a true, take-charge senior floor general.
Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers didn’t lead the team in the manner that they should have in 2010-11. Although they both had successful careers in East Lansing, the seniors left something to be desired in the leadership department.
Nix did a respectable job of setting the tone this past season. Keith Appling and Payne will have to carry the torch if the Spartans are to have reliable go-to presences.
Given the youthful roster, having a pair of seniors is obviously better than having just one senior.
The fact that Payne is talking about winning a national title is enough reason to think that he’s taking a serious approach to his final year of college hoops. His goal is clear, and so are his intentions—leaving East Lansing with unfinished business just wasn’t an option.
He. Wants. More.
And, of course, he’s probably well aware of the streak—every four-year player for Tom Izzo has been to at least one Final Four. Knowing that, Payne’s decision to come back to college speaks volumes. He’s likely bent on carrying on that tradition.
Frontcourt Will Be a Formidable Foe
No Nix, no problem.
Although the Spartans will miss Nix’s 6’9”, 270-pound ferocity, they’ll be in decent shape with Payne leading the way. In 2012-13, Nix averaged 6.2 rebounds and 9.9 points per game.
That’s production that has to be accounted for this upcoming year.
Payne can do that.
In 2012-13, Payne led the Spartans with 7.5 rebounds per outing in addition to 10.5 points. His tenacity on the boards gave the Spartans an ample amount of second-chance opportunities.
Up-and-coming forwards/centers like Matt Costello and Alex Gauna will have time to develop. They’ll also have time to learn from Payne, a great example of just how dedication to the game pays dividends.
Kenny Kaminski will return from a shoulder injury this year, and incoming freshman Gavin Schilling will add to an inexperienced but potential-filled frontcourt.
Without Payne, Costello, Gauna, Kaminski and Schilling would have an immense amount of pressure on them to perform. Costello and Gauna averaged just over six minutes per game this past season, but they’re not ready to be the top-two options in the paint for Michigan State.
Maturing is part of the process, and the Spartans’ stable of forwards/centers will only be stronger with Payne in the picture. Without Payne, Michigan State’s frontcourt would struggle to be average. With Payne, it’s instantly one of the better units in the Big Ten.
How’s that for being important to a team?
Like Appling and Payne, freshman Gary Harris had to make the choice on whether or not to declare for the draft or stay in school.
He stayed, and the Spartans will have a foursome that should challenge just about any team in the nation: Harris, Payne, Appling and will-be-junior Branden Dawson.
Michigan State picked up former Minnesota-commit Alvin Ellis, a 3-star rated, 6’5”, 183-pound senior out of Chicago De La Salle who could be a great link between now and the next two incoming classes. Having played with the aforementioned, Ellis will gain valuable knowledge from one of Izzo’s most talented quartet of players and spread it to the 2014 and 2015 recruits.
Payne’s decision to stay at Michigan State was the best for the Spartans. Personally, though, Payne is taking a huge risk—his stock may never be higher. However, the true spirit of college athletics was demonstrated by him Sunday.
Money and professional glory doesn’t trump the desire to win with the Spartans. Michigan State has to be a favorite to win it all in 2014 simply due to Payne.
Follow Bleacher Report’s Michigan State Spartans basketball writer Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81.