Payne's passing ability and tendency to take care of the ball have him in sixth place in conference for assist-to-turnover ratio. // Photo by Oliver Hamlin
By Mitch Farley
How do you measure success? Is it by material objects or personal achievement?
Whichever it may be, senior co-captain of the men’s basketball team Tyler Payne has learned the meaning of being the best basketball player he can possibly be through the work he puts in on a daily basis.
Payne, 23, has led the Vikings from the point guard position this season. During that span he has amassed 99 assists, ranking him fourth in assists in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference. Payne said his goal is to reach No. 1 in assists this season. However, Payne’s journey to that position started long before he came to Western.
Payne said he grayshirted for Cerritos College in Norwalk, California his first year out of high school. Grayshirting is when a player waits one season before officially becoming part of the team. Following that year-long break from playing competitively, Payne played at Cerritos for two years, but he encountered a setback early on in his post-high school career.
“The following year I decided to play and ended up having a season-ending injury. I had appendicitis,” Payne said.
The injury stifled his first season playing out of high school. Payne said that was the biggest setback of his basketball career.
“I was on bedrest for two-straight months. I couldn’t even walk up the stairs in my own house,” Payne said.
During his time at Cerritos College, Payne met Micah Winn, who is now a redshirt-junior guard for the Vikings.
Winn explained the difficulty for Payne coming back after being out for a critical season.
“He showed an intense level of perseverance. He waited on the doctor’s timetable and the minute he could get back in the gym with us, he was right back,” Winn said.
Payne said appendicitis made him realize how fragile the game is, and how it can be taken away at a moment’s notice.
His tenure at Cerritos College was successful enough for Payne to draw attention from Division II schools, and as a result he was recruited by the Vikings on a full-ride scholarship.
The jump to Western wasn’t the only career-changing move Payne has made. After his junior year of high school, Payne said he made the decision to transfer to La Mirada High School to get around people who took basketball as seriously as he did. The move helped improve his own game by being around people who would “die on the basketball court,” he said. Enter trainer, mentor and “big brother” to Payne: Charlie Torres.
“He was somebody that I could trust and actually cared for me. Charlie, he supports me like no other,” Payne said.
Sitting on the wood bench in the mezzanine of Sam Carver Gymnasium, Payne broke down his military-like daily routine with Torres.
Payne said Torres would pick him up every day at 7 a.m. to workout before school and at lunch. Then, after practice they would make a 30-minute drive to pick up another friend to workout in Anaheim, California.
Winn said that Payne used this same routine to propel himself to the next level later in his career at Western.
“I will always know and count on him to put that extra work in because he has that passion and love for the game,” Winn said.
Winn said he was happy to find someone who shared his own work ethic and desire for the game.
“No other player in junior college, the university level, or even some pros don’t work like that,” Winn said.
Head coach Tony Dominguez said this season Payne has been the leading voice for the Vikings on the court, having started every game of the season so far. Dominguez said he’s done an incredible job at keeping the team organized on the court.
“He knows when there’s mismatches and who needs to get the ball at what time,” Dominguez said.
Payne has not only helped lead the Vikings on the court, but he is also actively investing in the future of the team by mentoring younger players, he said.
Freshman guard D’Angelo Minnis said Payne was the first player to introduce himself. Payne told Minnis he was there to help with anything, whether basketball related or not.
“He’s been like a big brother to me,” Minnis said. “He taught me that as a point guard, you need to be able to shoot, but being able to pass and create for your teammates is just as important.”
Minnis said he’s becoming a better player as a result and said he thinks Payne will make a great coach someday.
Payne’s college basketball career is reaching its end, with two games remaining in the regular season. Payne said he wishes he could have played for Western for his entire college career.
“I wish I would have taken care of my schooling senior year [of high school] … but I wouldn’t trade my journey for anything,” Payne said. “I accept the good and bad that goes into this life.”