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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

An Aggie abroad

For former UC Davis standout Mark Payne, the dream of professional basketball has become a reality.

Payne, one of the most talented players in UC Davis basketball history, has followed his passion and talent to Granada, Spain, where he is currently playing on a one year contract. His team, el Club Baloncesto de Granada, plays in the Liga Española de Baloncesto, the second league of the Spanish basketball system.

The move to Granada followed the disappointment of not getting drafted by any NBA teams in this summer’s draft, but Payne is not looking backward.

“Traveling around the country working out for NBA teams was a dream come true,” Payne said. “It was disappointing not getting drafted, but I raised my stock for international teams and met a lot of people.”

In reality, had he been drafted, Payne would likely not be playing basketball today. Since all NBA players are currently locked-out due to collective bargaining issues, drafted rookies have not had a chance to integrate into their new teams or begin playing professional basketball.

As a result of the lockout, professional basketball in Europe has become a popular option for players from around the world. It’s no easy task to play basketball in a foreign country, though, warns Payne.

“Practices are all in Spanish. The drills, the instruction, our team meetings, the talk in the locker room, it’s all in Spanish,” he said. “A lot of times in games, I will see something and want to tell my teammates but can’t do it [due to the language barrier].”

Despite the challenges of living abroad, one fact remains – Payne is a professional athlete. When asked about the best part, he didn’t hesitate.

“Not having to worry about school and homework,” he said.

Fair enough. There are some things that Payne misses about college basketball, though.

“Playing professionally, most of my teammates have wives and families. I miss just going to lunch after practice and talking with my teammates.”

Basketball wise, Payne considers the talent in the Spanish league to be similar to what he faced while playing in the Big West.

“The competition seems to be about like college,” he said. “The players aren’t as athletic, but are much more fundamental and very good defenders.”

In order to succeed against the tough competition, one would think that Payne is always mentally prepared for games. He had to be ready for game days in college, and since he’s professional athlete, being ready is literally his job. It’s not always that easy though, explained Payne.

Soon after his arrival to the team, Payne was told by the manager that he had practice on Sunday and was to report to the gym at five p.m. So, at five p.m. Payne showed up. To his surprise, he was greeted by a gym full of fans and TV cameras.

“We had an actual game and nobody told me,” Payne said. “I showed up thinking we had normal practice and we had a full on game against another Spanish team.”

It’s very possible that the manager explained that there was a game and that Payne did not understand due to his limited Spanish.

By the time this season ends, Payne will likely have learned enough Spanish that basic translation mistakes will be a thing of the past. He has been in Spain since the middle of August and likely won’t return to the states until the season ends in early June.

By July, he hopes to be back playing in the NBA’s summer league. Payne feels his best chance to break into the league will come from either the Boston Celtics or the Phoenix Suns. After that, it’s anyone’s guess.

“I will be back in California and training around and in Davis for most of the summer,” Payne said. “From there, I have no idea where I will be. Could be anywhere in the world for next season.”

He’s on the grind. Day to day, month to month, country-to-country and workout-to-workout, he’s chasing the dream of a prolonged professional basketball career. For now, it’s working.

Mark Payne is a professional basketball player.

CAELUM SHOVE can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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