Cully Payne has false starts before finding right fit at Loyola
BY TONI GINNETTI email@example.com January 18, 2013 11:32PM
INDIANAPOLIS - MARCH 11: Guard Cully Payne #3 of the Iowa Hawkeyes drives with the ball against the Michigan Wolverines during the first round of the Big Ten Men's Basketball Tournament at Conseco Fieldhouse on March 11, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Cully Payne
Updated: February 20, 2013 6:16AM
Loyola coach Porter Moser and his point guard, junior Cully Payne, are kindred spirits.
“He wears his emotions on his sleeve, like I do,’’ Moser said. “He has such a high [basketball] IQ and knows we’re on the same page.’’
But it took three other college go-rounds with three other coaches before Payne and Moser found each other.
There was Payne’s first highly publicized “commitment’’ as a Schaumburg eighth-grader to then-DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright in 2005.
“Coach Wainwright and my grandfather who died of ALS were best friends,” Payne said. “Coach went to see my grandfather, and I happened to be there. We were joking around, and he said, ‘Cully, do you want a scholarship?’ That’s how our relationship started.’’
But by the time Payne turned into an All-State selection, Wainwright was gone and other colleges were calling.
Payne first chose Alabama and then-coach Mark Gottfried, but he ultimately went to Iowa, where former Butler coach Todd Lickliter was in charge.
“When I commit, I commit to the coach,’’ Payne said. “You’re playing for the coach and your teammates more than the school.’’
Payne had a strong first season and was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team, but Lickliter was fired and replaced by Fran McCaffery.
Payne started the first five games of his sophomore season before suffering a sports hernia.
“It was supposed to be a three-week recovery after surgery that turned into six months,’’ Payne said of missing that season.
The coaching change affected him as well, and he asked for his release. Coaches began calling quickly — including the man just hired at Loyola.
“I was hired on the Saturday of the Final Four in Houston [in 2011] and on Sunday, my first call was to our compliance officer saying, ‘Can you get [Payne’s] release?’ ’’ Moser said.
“I remember he was intense,” Payne said. “I thought ‘this guy’s for me.’ ’’
Payne sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules, but he suffered along with his coach and teammates through a dismal 7-23 year.
“Not having the games and the hype, I was lost for a while,’’ Payne said. “But I was lucky to have my family and coaches here and work through that, and at the same time I was able to learn.
“Sitting out slowed down the game for me, and I was able to see how things happen and when things happen. That was a huge benefit.”
Payne “had a lot of rust’’ in his first five games this season, Moser said, but the coach credits the team’s summer exhibition trip to Italy with helping jump-start Payne’s transition.
Payne sprained his right ankle in the second game, but didn’t miss a game. His 24-point performance in a 69-61 victory against DePaul was one point short of his career-best.
He averages 8.4 points and 4.6 assists for the Ramblers and is one of some 80 players on the Bob Cousy Award “watch list.’’
His greater impact is in how he commands the floor, Moser said.
“Trust is such a big factor between a coach and point guard,’’ he said. “I trust that he wants the team to win so badly that he cares more about winning than his own statistics. He wants to change the culture here.’’
Payne is confident enough in the Ramblers’ future that he helped persuade younger brother Quinten to commit.
“It’s a dream come true,’’ dad Kent, a former basketball coach and currently the assistant athletic director at Elgin Community College, said of the brothers playing together.