CHAMPAIGN — The transfer portal giveth just as it taketh.
Two days after losing freshman guard Adam Miller to the portal, Illinois got its first offseason addition with now-former Florida forward Omar Payne announcing his decision to transfer and join the Illini for the 2021-22 season.
Payne’s decision to transfer to Illinois was a quick one. He announced he was leaving Florida and entering the transfer portal on Tuesday. Four days later, he was the newest Illini.
Payne is frontcourt insurance for Illinois with Kofi Cockburn yet to make a decision about his future.
The Illini’s 7-foot All-Big Ten and second-team All-American center has until May 30 to enter his name in the NBA draft. The back end of the timetable is the NBA’s July 19 deadline to stay in the draft or not, with the NCAA not yet setting its withdrawal date.
Payne played mostly a reserve role in his two seasons at Florida, backing up Kerry Blackshear and Keyontae Johnson as a freshman and Michigan transfer Colin Castleton this past season.
The 6-foot-10, 230-pound forward appeared in 54 games in his Florida career and made 15 starts. He started eight of 24 games in 2020-21 and averaged 3.8 points and 3.2 rebounds while shooting 75 percent from the field.
Payne’s best and worst moments this past season both came against Tennessee. The Florida big man had nine points, nine rebounds and five blocks in the Gators’ 75-49 beatdown of the No. 6 Vols on Jan. 20. But he was ejected in the teams’ SEC tournament quarterfinal matchup after elbowing John Fulkerson in the face twice, leading to a facial fracture for the Tennessee forward.
The SEC rendered no further punishment for Payne’s elbow and ejection, but Florida coach Mike White opted to sit Payne in the Gators’ NCAA tournament opener against Virginia Tech. He returned in the second round, playing 11 minutes off the bench in an 81-78 loss to Oral Roberts.
“Definitely a teaching moment,” White said after the game about sitting Payne against the Hokies. “It wasn’t overly difficult. It’s difficult that he can’t play, obviously, but it was the right thing to do. That’s it. Omar handled it like a champ. Omar is very remorseful. We all make mistakes. He’s a great young man.”
Payne will mostly help Illinois around the basket as a rim runner offensively and a rim protector at the other end.
The Kissimmee, Fla., native is a career 66.7 percent shooter, but he is just 8 of 28 (28.6 percent) on two-point shots away from the rim and didn’t attempt a three-pointer in either of his two seasons with the Gators.
Defensively, Payne will give Illinois a shot blocker it hasn’t had in the Brad Underwood era. Payne has 18 games with multiple blocks in his career, with the five against Tennessee a career high.
Payne was a consensus four-star recruit coming out of high school and was ranked as high as No. 48 in the Class of 2019 by 247Sports.
His prep background fits what Illinois wants. Payne helped Osceola win the 2017 FHSAA Class 7A state championship as a junior and then transferred to nearby powerhouse Montverde Academy, where he helped the Eagles reach the semifinals of the GEICO Nationals as a senior.
“Everybody on our team has won,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said last month, discussing the makeup of the Illini. “We don’t have guys from losing programs.
“Not to say I never would, but I don’t like to take guys from losing programs.”