Incoming basketball frosh Payne has the spark


Growing up, Cully Payne had one dream — to one day play in the NBA.

That dream will be one step closer to reality when the incoming Iowa point guard takes his game to the collegiate level later this year.

Payne credits his passion for the hardwood to his father, Kent Payne, who was a high-school and college coach before assuming his current role as athletics director at Elgin Community College in Illinois.

“[My dad] probably got me into basketball. I’ve been into it since I was probably 1 year old,” Payne said.

He has learned two lessons he feels are important, one in basketball, the other in life. In basketball, playing hard is the most important lesson. The life lesson is no matter what, be respectful.

Payne said his character is important, and he had one instance in life he believes defined himself as a person.

In 2007, his grandfather, Jim Payne, passed away after battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Cully Payne said his grandfather lived on a ventilator for 13 years and was unable to move or talk.

“I think about everything he went through every day for 13 years, not being able to move or talk, just to watch us grow up,” Payne said. “It kind of gave me motivation that when things get hard, I just think about what he did, and that just gives me motivation.”

Nick Neari, a close friend of Payne, met him in fifth grade. The two played basketball together in the neighborhood as well as in high school, and Neari thinks the future looks bright for Payne.

“He’s one of the best playmakers I know,” said Neari, who will be a walk-on for the Hawkeyes this coming season. “He’s a true playmaker, and he can shoot on top of that.”

Neari raves at the person that Payne is off the court.

“He’s a great friend, a great person, and everyone that meets him, loves him,” Neari said enthusiastically. “He’s a good kid with a good head on his shoulders.”

Payne said his commitment to Iowa was the best decision that he has ever made.

“The commitment was great, from the coaches to the players,” he said. “The more I learn about the university and the people around it, I think it’s just a great place to be.”

Payne’s proudest moment in life thus far is the opportunity to play college basketball. This summer, the Schaumburg, Ill., native has gotten a taste of that experience playing in Prime Time for Kevin Lehman’s Imprinted Sportswear/ Goodfellow Printing.

“The biggest thing that sticks out about Cully is he has a true point-guard mentality, and he understands how that position is played,” Lehman said. “He has a great feel for the flow of the game, and he knows when he needs to get the ball inside and when he needs to knock down a 3-pointer.”

It’s important to have a player such as Payne on a college team, he said.

“As a former college coach, one of the things you look for in a point guard is a guy that can be your coach on the floor, and he has that type of mentality,” Lehman said. “He understands what the coach wants done, and he’s able to get his team to execute that.”

From his time at Iowa, Payne wants a “great education and a great basketball experience.”

If he doesn’t get to live his NBA dream, he would be content with a degree and a career he enjoys.

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