Art Winston’s wife Brenda received Mother’s Day greetings from Adreian Payne every year, even as recently as Sunday. That’s how close Payne was to his former Jefferson High School family.
“He meant so much — not as a player, but as a person — to all of us,” Winston said Monday.
Payne, 31, who died in a shooting in Orlando, Fla., early Monday, was a four-year starter when Winston was the head coach at Jefferson. They won a state championship together when Payne was a senior in 2010.
“He was our best player,” Winston said. “He was great leader on and off the floor. He did everything that was asked of him in the classroom. You never had to worry about him getting in trouble. I won’t say he was perfect, but he was close.”
Dr. Richard Gates, Superintendent of Jefferson Township Local School District, was the principal at Jefferson when Payne was in school.
“We were very saddened to hear the tragic news Adreian’s passing,” Gates said in a statement. “He was an outstanding young man with so much potential. He will forever be one of the Jefferson Township Educational Community’s shining stars.”
Jared Sullinger, who played in the Big Ten at Ohio State at the same time Payne was at Michigan State, was one of the first to comment on Payne’s death on Twitter.
“Hate the news i received this morning,” Sullinger wrote. “Rest Easy to my brother/teammate.”
Rhode Island coach Archie Miller, who was an assistant coach at Ohio State and Arizona, during Payne’s high school career, wrote on Twitter: “Sad to hear the passing of Adreian Payne this morning. Started watching him while he was in 10th grade, remember his grandmother on his visit. Loved seeing him develop at Michigan St. and become an NBA player. (Prayers) for his loved ones, Spartans, and Dayton, OH. #RipAP”
Wright State assistant coach Travis Trice, whose son Travis played with Payne at Michigan State, wrote, “Life is short. Treasure your loved ones while you can! Rest easy, Adreian Payne.”
Nick Ward, who played for the Spartans from 20016-19, called Payne a “Michigan State legend” and wrote he was “one of the reasons I wanted to play in Green and White.”
Winston saw Payne’s potential in junior high. He played wide receiver and quarterback in football and ran track as well as play basketball.
Payne was 6-foot-8 as a sophomore and grew to 6-10 as a senior. By that time, he ranked among the nation’s top recruits. In the summer of 2008, before his junior season, Rivals.com ranked him 14th in the class of 2010. Payne remained dedicated to improving his game and averaged 15 points as a junior and 15.9 as a senior.
“You have to improve every year,” Payne told the Dayton Daily News then, “because if you don’t they’ll think, ‘What is he doing there? Is he doing his work? Is he slacking off?’ A lot of people get the big head and don’t focus on their game because they think they’re already there. I’m not there yet.”
Payne committed to Michigan State in October 2009, picking it over three other top contenders: West Virginia; Arizona; and Kentucky. Winston remembers the recruiting process as wild and exciting.
“He had so many people calling all the time,” Winston said. “It was amazing how he stayed so focused through the whole thing.”
Payne played through a shoulder injury as a senior and had surgery days after a 59-52 victory against Newark Catholic in the state championship game. Payne had 11 points and nine rebounds in that game. Fellow senior Cody Latimer, who would go on to play six seasons in the NFL as a wide receiver, led the team with 24 points and 12 rebounds.
“It meant a lot for us to get to the state championship,” Winston said. “With him and Cody, it was incredible ride.”
At Michigan State, Payne a three-year starter who scored 1,232 points in his career. The Spartans reached the Sweet 16 in his junior and sophomore seasons and the Elite Eight in his final season.
Payne earned bigger headlines for befriending a young cancer patient, Lacey Holsworth, 8, during his college career. They grew so close she walked out with him onto the court during Senior Night in 2014 and helped him cut down the net when Michigan State won the Big Ten tournament that same season. She died in April 2014.
“It wasn’t too surprising because he loved kids,” Winston said. “He just had an outgoing personality. The way he took that and was genuine with her — he truly loved her — that was really impressive coming from a young man.”
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