Illini's sights set on Payton

Illini's sights set on Payton

URBANA — Last June, Bloomington rising junior Chris Payton netted an offer from the Illinois men's basketball team.

In August, however, Payton verbally committed to a different local institution: Illinois State.

Fast forward to January, and the 6-foot-6 standout had decided to reopen his recruitment.

The Illini certainly noticed, with a member of Brad Underwood's coaching staff in attendance last Friday as Payton put up 19 points in a 96-73 Purple Raiders victory over host Urbana.

"Family talks, personal decisions. It was nothing to do with the program," Payton said when asked about breaking from the Redbirds. "I've still got a lot of love for ISU. They're still going to be in my top five, but it's just something that had to be done."

Throughout the night, Payton provided exactly what the present-day Illini are missing: a serious post presence.

Despite some first-half struggles handling the ball, Payton consistently dominated the rebounding scene, swatted away the Tigers' shots and drew attention to set up bids for his teammates

When Payton's offensive game picked up — specifically in a third quarter during which he tallied 14 points — there was nothing Urbana could do to stop the big athlete.

"He makes it easier for a lot of (the Purple Raiders), and they make it really easy for him," Bloomington coach Micheal Mosley said. "We were able to space the floor, take advantage, and they get just as excited as he does when he dunks. So they're always looking for him."

The dunking was Payton's exclamation point on a near-triple-double performance. On one slam, Payton soared over a teammate who was unfortunate enough to be stuck between the basket and the high-flying scorer.

"I think throughout the season they've learned to move out of the way," Payton said with a smile. "Especially after this one."

In another instance, Payton accepted a fastbreak pass, rotated his body 360 degrees and flushed the ball home. And Payton's final two points of the night came, by his standards, on a run-of-the-mill jam.

Payton knew before the contest Illinois had a representative among the crowd, and he felt it affected his play in the opening two quarters. A personal reset in the locker room changed everything.

"I was just trying to force things in the first half, and I just let things come to me in the second half and had a big explosion," Payton said. "I just stopped trying to force the game and let the game come to me."

Payton described the feeling associated with his first Big Ten offer as "amazing."

And while he has plenty of time to decide whether Champaign-Urbana is the right college destination for him, Payton already has considered what he could do with Underwood's tutelage.

"(I really like) their style of play, and I really like their coach," Payton said. "I'm not too familiar with their personnel, like how it's going to be when my class comes. But definitely how they want to play, I can play right into it."

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Moonpie wrote on February 06, 2018 at 5:02 pm

The Latest Coaching Installment will probably lose the kid to ISU anyway.

Objective Reporter wrote on February 09, 2018 at 10:02 am

Thanks, Eeyore.