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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Sunday / February 5.
  • Payne Not Thinking About NBA, Only Michigan State Advancing

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    Adreian PayneBy JOSH NEWMAN

    Special to ZAGSBLOG

    NEW YORK – Michigan St. senior forward Adreian Payne has had a strong season for the Spartans, but his NBA Draft stock has only just recently received a major shot in the arm.

    In the second round of the NCAA Tournament last week against Delaware, the 6-foot-10, 245-pounder had a career-high 41 points and eight rebounds in a 93-78 rout of Delaware. The 41 points came on 10-for-15 shooting from the floor and 17-for-17 from the foul line.

    His NBA future was already trending in the right direction, but that stat line was the real eye-opener as he has now moved well inside the first round on reputable mock drafts.

    As the fourth-seeded Spartans ready for No. 1 seed Virginia this evening in an East Regional semifinal at Madison Square Garden, the NBA is predictably not on Payne’s mind. If he continues to play how he is playing, the NBA will not only take care of itself, but the Spartans may be heading to North Texas and the Final Four next weekend.

    “The NBA, there’s nothing I can do about that now,” Payne said. “It’s my senior year and I know that if I don’t continue to keep playing and keep showing up, then we won’t advance.  And that’s the main thing, is just trying to continue to win the games, so that I can continue to play another game and lead this team to a Final Four.”

    The goal, as it always is in East Lansing, is the Final Four, but the fact remains that Payne is putting himself in position as a first-round pick in June’s NBA Draft. With the 41-point game as the high-water mark, it’s no longer whether or not he will get inside the first 30 picks, how high he will ascend.

    DraftExpress.com currently has the Dayton, OH native as the No. 24 pick this June, while some are willing to put him higher before the workout portion of the pre-draft process comes.

    “He plays both ends, he can run, he can rebound,” a veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv. “He plays inside and outside, covers multiple positions. He could go middle of the first round.”

    The Spartans are probably under-seeded at No. 4, but that is largely the product of an injury-plagued 23-8 regular season. Those injuries included, at one time or another, Payne (sprained foot), sophomore star Gary Harris (shoulder), junior swingman Branden Dawson (hand) and senior stalwart Keith Appling (wrist).

    Michigan St. pushed through all of that, got healthy at the right time, won the Big Ten Tournament and is now two wins from a seventh Final Four appearance under head coach Tom Izzo.

    “We got our guys back, especially Dawson and Payne, Appling about three weeks ago roughly, and we made some progress each week,” said Izzo, whose team started 18-1 before injuries started creeping up. “I thought the Big Ten Tournament, we did play awfully well.  I thought we played well in Spokane (last weekend). Are we back to the team we were then?  Probably not, but are we as close as we have been all year?  Definitely.”

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