Michigan State's Payne improving on and off court

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 27, 2013 at 5:33 pm •  Published: March 27, 2013

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan State's Adreian Payne blocked a shot and made a long jumper on ensuing possessions, providing another glimpse of his vast potential and boosting his stock as an NBA prospect.

At least two teams in the league top executives who have witnessed Payne play in this NCAA tournament, and his latest performance had to impress anybody watching in person or on TV.

The 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward had 14 points, 10 rebounds, a career-high five blocks — a school record in the NCAA tournament — and two steals in a 70-48 win over Memphis that put the Spartans in the round of 16.

Payne may be a pivotal player when third-seeded Michigan State faces second-seeded Duke on Friday night in Indianapolis. He's likely to match up against Ryan Kelly, who has helped the Blue Devils win 20 of 21 games when he's healthy enough to play.

Payne's improved play has been impressive, yet it pales in comparison to his off-the-court story.

He has befriended a little girl during her bout with cancer and has become a scholar-athlete honoree after being diagnosed as cognitively disabled as a child.

Payne acknowledged his life has a lot of elements that would make for quite a book.

"It is very interesting," he said. "I think it's good to get your story out there because there's other kids just like you, or me, and if they see or read about somebody that has had it just like them, it gives them hope that they can do something, too."

Payne grew up in Dayton, Ohio, and was more interested in exploring the creek in the backyard with his brothers than shooting hoops at the park.

He was relegated to going to school with other cognitively disabled students from kindergarten through ninth grade, joining the rest of his classmates for gym and art.

When Payne was in the ninth grade, his path crossed with Richard Gates, who was a math teacher then and became the superintendent two years later. The educator saw a student whose future looked bleak if a change wasn't made.

"He couldn't read in the ninth grade," Gates recalled Wednesday in a telephone interview. "We had lowered the bar for Adreian, expecting nothing and getting nothing."

Gates strongly advised Payne's late grandmother, Mary Lewis, who raised him after his mother died when he was 13, to get him out of the school district's special-education program.

"I told her that she would have to refuse the recommendations from the specialist so that he could be in regular-ed classrooms," Gates recalled. "She bought in and Adreian went from hiding in class to being the kid who would go to the board in precalculus class."

A few years later, Payne did well enough in school to be an Academic All-Big Ten honoree and won Michigan State's scholar-athlete award as a sophomore.

And if he doesn't skip his senior season to enter the NBA draft, he should have an interdisciplinary-studies degree in May 2014.

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