Payton was there to check out Louisiana’s new Nike EYBL team, Elfrid Payton Elite out of New Orleans. The Magic guard and John Ehret High School grad sponsors the squad.
“I always wanted to have my own AAU team to give back and help out kids and make sure they didn’t have to pay for anything,” Payton told the Cajun Redzone on Saturday. “We got to talking about it and landed the EYBL deal. It was huge.”
Lightly recruited out of high school despite an all-state senior season, Payton is happy to be involved with helping Louisiana’s next generation of college basketball prospects. He signed with the Ragin’ Cajuns after they were the only Division I school to offer him a scholarship.
“It means a lot to me,” said Payton, the 10th overall pick of last year’s NBA draft by Philadelphia before being traded to Orlando. “I just wanted to help put these guys on the stage so they can showcase their talents, and I think this is the best stage I can do that. The EYBL is a big deal. There are always coaches and scouts at these games and a lot of media coverage. They have a great chance to show what they can do. My biggest thing is to help all these guys get into college.
“Basketball might not be for everybody, but if you can use it to get into college and get an education that’s big.”
Payton made a big impact this past season in Orlando, finishing fourth in NBA Rookie of the Year voting after averaging 8.9 points, 6.5 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. He led all rookies in assists (533) and assists per game and was second in steals per game and double-doubles (12). Among all players he ranked seventh in steals (142) and eighth in assists and played in all 82 games with 63 starts.
In March, Payton became the first Magic player and seventh rookie in NBA history with back-to-back triple-doubles after big games against Dallas (15 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) and Portland (22 points, 10 assists, 10 rebounds). He was one of 12 NBA players — and the only rookie — with multiple triple-doubles in the regular season.
According to advanced statistics, the 6-foot-4 Payton deserved to be Rookie of the Year over eventual winner Andrew Wiggins of Minnesota.
“It was a great experience and something I’d worked my whole life for,” Payton said of his rookie season. “It was about what I expected. I knew I was going to have some ups and downs, but as long as I was gradually improving each month I was good with that.”
Payton — who turned pro after a junior season in which he led the Cajuns to the NCAA tournament, was named the Lefty Driesell National Defensive Player of the Year and made the All-Sun Belt first team — will be busy this offseason working to improve his game. He’s determined to improve his shooting numbers from this past season for a Magic team that had a coaching change in February and won only 25 games.
“I’m just going to continue to work and work and try to improve my game as much as I can,” he said. “I’ve already been in New Orleans (this offseason) and I’m going to kind of be all over the place. I’m just going to be putting work in and trying to better my game.”
As for his former school, Payton expects the Cajuns to be a Sun Belt contender next season with the return of an experienced roster and all-league big man Shawn Long from a 22-win team that advanced to the CIT quarterfinals before falling to eventual champ Evansville.
“I think they’re going to have a good year,” Payton said. “The (Sun Belt) tournament is all about getting hot at the right time, and I think they’ve got a chance to win it. Shawn is a great player and they’ve got some other good guys coming back. I think they’ve got a good chance to get back to the tournament.”
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