Mark Payne is a trailblazer, to say the least.
Joining the UC Davis 1,000-point club just three games into the 2010-11 campaign, the senior guard out of Stockton, Calif. has paved the way for the Aggies on the stats sheet.
As the heart and soul of UC Davis men’s basketball, Payne leads the team with a 51.7 field goal percentage, averaging 15.1 points per game.
Not to mention, he’s an offensive facilitator and a beast at the foul line, dishing out 90 assists on the year and hitting 81.9 percent of his free throws.
Aside from the numbers, the 6-foot-8 Payne is your ordinary college basketball player. He likes sports movies and he’s hungry for a postseason.
Payne took a break from preparing for this weekend’s do-or-die homestand to talk to Aggie Staff Writer Grace Sprague about everything from his dedication to UC Davis basketball to his goal to play beyond the collegiate level.
What’s the toughest thing about being a basketball player at the collegiate level?
Dealing with the physicality, trying to be consistent and playing as hard as you can every day. At the end of the season it gets taxing and it’s easy to say you’re tired or to blame it on something or to make excuses. So just being mentally ready, and being able to handle the bumps and bruises throughout the year.
What is the biggest challenge for a student athlete off the court?
Managing your time. You do basketball for a couple hours every day, so not wasting any time. Getting up in the mornings and doing homework or taking your stuff on the road. It’s tough when you first get here – everything’s kind of crazy and you start traveling and missing class, but you learn how to be resourceful, find a friend in the class and talk to the teachers. You learn how to deal with it; it’s kind of a unique situation.
Has your experience with Aggie basketball affected your outlook on life?
I’m so grateful to have played college basketball. I’m thankful Coach [Gary] Stewart gave me the opportunity. I was close to not playing in college, so it’s definitely life-changing. It could have been way different. I’m just grateful.
Considering the turmoil within the program in recent years, what has kept you loyal to UC Davis basketball?
Coach Stewart has always been really loyal to me. He could have turned his back on me many times through all the injuries and all that’s happened. When I came in the first day, I had the mindset that I’m going to graduate from here. The next five years, whatever happens, happens. It never crossed my mind to think about leaving.
Reflecting on your experience as an Aggie, what will you miss the most?
Hanging out with my teammates. We’ve had a lot of locker room and training room time – so just hanging out with everybody. I’m going to miss having teammates like this for multiple years, which probably won’t happen ever again. It’s something to cherish.
It sounds like you’ve had a memorable time at UC Davis. What is your favorite on-court experience?
Beating UC Irvine here in the double-overtime game [on Jan. 29]. That was really, really fun. There was a lot of emotion, and wins are so hard to come by this year – a little harder than last year – so that’s one that really sticks out. In practice another time this year, Todd [Lowenthal] dunked and we all went nuts. We had never seen him dunk before. After five years he dunked, and so that was definitely one of my highlights.
Like you said, this season has been rough at times, but its not over. What are your goals for the rest of the 2011 campaign?
Just to make the [Big West Conference] Tournament. If we can just get down there, we know that anything can happen, and that’s what we’re looking at right now. We need to win both games this week, and it’s a big task, but we think we can do it. You definitely want to win every game, but these are the two right in front of us. Thursday’s [game against Cal State Northridge] is a really big game.
You and Joe Harden make up one of the best duos in UC Davis men’s basketball history. What does the future look like for the Aggie basketball program after you guys leave?
The program is definitely moving in the right direction. They’ve got a great young core with the four new guys, and they’ve got another guy coming in next year who’s supposed to be really good. They’ve got great coaching and great support through the alumni, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
As your last game in a UC Davis uniform comes closer, have you thought about your basketball plans after graduating?
I’m going to keep playing. After the season, I’m going to select an agent and go from there. I’ll do the NBA workouts and hopefully that works. But if it doesn’t, I’ll go overseas. I’m excited to turn to a new chapter and do something different. It’ll be really fun.
Lastly, do you have a favorite sports movie?
Hoosiers, the old basketball movie. Pretty standard for a basketball player.
GRACE SPRAGUE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.