Payne Looks Back on Senior Season
TP: It was goal I set in the beginning of season, to try and get that award. It took me playing hard for 40 minutes and just trying to make plays when I am on the court. Also, I tried to go as hard as I could in practice, especially in certain drills. I try to do the same thing every time I am on the court, mainly trying to be consistent.
SCB: What do you think the WCC coaches saw in your game?
TP: They probably thought I was a pest. Drew Viney, Mickey McConnell and Steven Gray came up to me after the game and said, " I hate playing against you." I guess the coaches saw that I was a good defender, that I can guard anyone on the court. I had some good games with some good steals. I try and pump up the defense and the offense.
SCB: You started the first eight games of the year. You then played four minutes at San Jose State and five minutes vs. Pacific, and then you worked your way back into the starting line up by the Gonzaga game on Jan. 20. What happened during that particular time?
TP: Coach Keating made the decision not to start me. He felt I wasn't working hard enough in practice so he thought that I didn't deserve to start or be on the court as many minutes as I expected to play. I had to check myself into getting back to doing what I was doing, which was playing hard. Eventually I made my way back into the starting lineup.
SCB: Do you think that was a positive experience for you?
TP: It was positive, especially because I am a senior and I didn't want to play four minutes a game. That hurt me. So I used it as a stepping-stone to work harder and prove him wrong. I wanted to show him that he does need me on the court to make plays, that I have to play. It did paid off in the long run for both of us.
SCB: So even though it was a low point of your season, it turned out to be a positive for you?
TP: It was right in the middle of the season and the league schedule was right around the corner so it got my attention that I needed to step it up another notch. That this is my last year and I need to play harder so I can stay on the court. It worked out to be a positive.
SCB: When was the point did you feel like we are in this to win it in regards to the CIT?
TP: I go into every game I play looking to win. Going into the CIT, we took it one game at a time. First, we weren't really excited about playing this post-season tournament because we had spring break plans and were looking forward to going home, seeing our families and traveling for spring break. After the first game, we said, "Let's just take advantage of this, and play more games." There were more games for me to step up so people could notice me if I want to play professionally next year. So we all got together. Once we won the first couple games and found out we were playing USF, we knew we had to beat them. We just looked at it as a positive and not a negative and rolled from there. It actually turned out to be a good spring break; we spent more time together and were able to bond more.
It was fun to hang out, but it was hard being away from Santa Clara for so long. We weren't really prepared for that when we first went to Dallas. It was different, but we made adjustments and it was a great experience. We went to the San Jose Earthquakes game (they played the MLS team in Dallas), did a lot of sight-seeing (JFK Memorial, Cowboy Stadium). I would have been satisfied with just that trip. Then we went to New York, practiced in Madison Square Garden, did some sight-seeing. I learned a lot about the history of 9/11. I knew a lot of the stuff, but didn't know about everything like the trains, the exit routes and the ferry. It's good to see the remodeling of the downtown structures. I had never seen the buildings (Twin Towers) before but the building on the pictures that stood next to them were big, so I could imagine it. They must have been huge.
SCB: Was it all just a surreal experience to get to go to San Francisco to Dallas to New York, taking the games away, just the trip itself?
TP: The trips were good; I was able to see family in New York I had never met before. My friends came down from Atlanta and Houston for the game because it was my last college game so they made the trip. There were a lot of positives from it all.
SCB: Exciting for you to really bond with the other three seniors?
TP: The seniors hung out a lot on the trip, but the team itself, we all hung out. This trip brought us all closer together. I think it is going to be good for the returning players. Just that experience living together for eight to 10 days, it's going to go a long way.
SCB: What was your favorite game in the CIT?
TP: Probably beating San Francisco. It was an up and down game, a lot of good plays happened in that game. Evan had a great game. Kevin had a great game. I did what I could do to help the team win. I feel like Niyi had some great plays in the game, he had a great block, which he also had last year at San Francisco. That was good for our team. It was good for everyone really – good for the Santa Clara alumni, the students that are still here. It felt really good to beat them.
SCB: What about your dunk in the USF game? In the pictures you look really far away from the basket and high up.
TP: I grabbed the steal and then I looked back because I didn't know if he was going to try and block it or not. I jumped after my last dribble and made a good dunk.
SCB: You dunked it really hard; did it feel like one of the hardest dunks of your life?
TP: Yeah probably … No no not at all (laughs). I think I had a dunk that was harder than that. It was a collegiate game, but it was a showcase game a couple years back. But that was probably one of the better dunks I have had this year and it was a close game. I think it put us up two or three. It was a momentum changer. It kind of took the life out the San Francisco team and fans so it helped us get a win.
SCB: What do you feel that winning the CIT does for the foundation of this program?
TP: It sets standards. We won five more games. Without those games we would have been -19-14 but with the CIT we are 24-14. We set the standards so much higher this year from last year. I think it will also help with recruiting. We worked together as a team, as a unit. For the returning players, they will play in the Anaheim Tournament so they have a chance to play for like four championships next year. It's a good experience for them and they know what they can do to get the win.
SCB: What are you going to do in the spring? You graduate in June; what do you plan to do after that?
TP: I want to try and play professionally in Europe. I have been talking to people, trying to find a reliable agent. That is probably the main thing right now but I have just been working out everyday trying to stay in shape, stay ready. That is the main thing, staying in shape, improving and having patience.
SCB: What do you want to improve about your game?
TP: I want to be in top shape, better at ball handling, shooting, being more aggressive. Right now in the weight room, I am working on explosive drills with Joe Siara. In terms of career, I want to be a sports agent. When it's all said and done I want to go to law school and pursue that career. So this is a good step in understanding how to book and be an agent.
SCB: What was the high point of the season?
TP: Beating Gonzaga, beating San Francisco and winning the CIT. Gonzaga was great because we hadn't beaten them here. It was good for our students, community and program. Beating San Francisco was a high point because it is a close rivalry. We hadn't beaten them this year and by winning we were able to send them home – that was their last game, losing to us on their home court. That is their last memory of the season.
They will remember that next year and their coaches will remind them. It was also great to win the CIT, to bring that back to Santa Clara. We had to go on the road to get it, and we got it done together.
SCB: Are you proud of what you have accomplished here?
TP: Yes, I am proud. I left a winner, so that's always good. This is my second collegiate career championship, so it feels good.
SCB: What message do you have to the younger guys?
TP: To work really hard. Give it your all whenever you are on and off the court. Put extra time in, don't take shortcuts. I took a couple shortcuts, and I learned from it. The best thing to do is just take it step by step. Go as hard as you can each and every day.