While many student-athletes sign with a school that was in their hearts all along, far fewer sign with a school that they initially wrote off altogether. So we asked Payne just how "never thought I was going there" became "I knew immediately I was going to Stanford." Payne revealed that her reconsidering the pros and cons of distance helped change her mind.
"I always thought I would go off to college further away from home, go off to the real world, but with the basketball season being so long and not as much liberty to go home then, being close is a benefit," she said. If I get homesick, I can always get a home-cooked meal, and my whole family gets to see me, I get a few fans. That's great for my college basketball experience.
Longtime Stanford women's hoops fans are well aware of Payne's East Bay roots, and in particular her high school, Carondelet High. Star center Jayne Appel is a Carondelet alum and graduated from the Farm five short months ago, but in yet another sign of just how fast things change, Payne didn't overlap at Carondelet whatsoever with Appel, and therefore hasn't had much contact with Appel at all. Thus, Jayne's Stanford commitment didn't really affect Payne's decision.
"I get asked about the Jayne connection a lot," Payne said. "My sister got to play with Jayne, so I was watching for awhile and Jayne's such an amazing player, but it's just a random turn of events that I went to both places [Carondelet and Stanford], like her. I'm honored to be associated with her but my commitment did not have to do with her."
Okay, so Payne's high school career is not Janye Appel's, and with all due respect, perhaps we should focus on Payne, a basketball star in her own right. Message received. So just how is Payne's senior season looking?
"We just finished our tryouts last week and have started practice this week," she said. "The season is shaping up to be really good. It's kind of a new team with new, younger players. It will be interesting, with two of our stars graduating, to see how they'll step up and see how they do with more responsibility. If we can get them to step up and take on bigger roles, we should be very good."
As to her individual game, Payne says one of her biggest strengths is that her game is multifaceted.
"A strength is my versatility, because I'm tall like a post, but athletic and fast as well, so I create mismatches," said Payne, a 6-foot-2 forward. "Whether you decide to put a big and slow post or a small and fast guard on me, I can go inside or go outside to gain my advantage. Another advantage I have, I'd say, is my work ethic. I play 100 percent all the time, and am very aggressive attacking basket and getting rebounds, so that's sort of my hidden arsenal, just how hard I work my motor during games."
While versatility has been a strength thus far, Payne suspects her basketball future is at guard, and it's in anticipation of her college career that she's working on guard-related skills.
"I've played post most of my life, but in college, I'm not going to be as [comparatively] big as normal, so I'm working on mostly guard work," Payne said. "I'm working on my ball-handling, outside shooting -- increasing my range so I'm an effective three-point shooter, and bringing the ball up as a guard as well, if necessary."
There may be a reason for Payne's recent redoubling of efforts to elevate her game to a college-ready level. Payne has had recent opportunities to play basketball with some of her future peers at Stanford, and at some of the highest levels a rising high school senior can. Seeing some of her future teammates and rivals up-close and personal left a lasting mark, Payne reports.
"A bunch of girls in my [Stanford incoming] Class of 2011 were at the U17/U18 national trials, and so were [current Stanford freshmen] Chiney Ogwumike and Sara James. That was a good opportunity to play with them, and see their game, and I used that to help evaluate who was going to be at the schools I was deciding between."
Given that she inked her name on a Stanford letter of intent, Payne was obviously quite impressed with her future Stanford teammates.
"They're all very different, so a lot of different things impressed me," Payne said. "With Bonnie [Samuelson], it was her outside shooting, with Amber [Orrange], it was her speed and quick ball-handling, and with Chiney, she's an all-around amazing athlete. Just her presence on the court is intimidating, I won't lie. … She just steps on the court with such confidence that it's really hard to see how you're going to beat her. She has such an athletic build and with how tall and how strong she looks, she has an image that looks tough to defend, and tough to score against."
Those are mighty strong words of praise from a young woman who thinks often about her words. Payne reports an interest in psychology, but her love in high school has been the written word.
"I still haven't decided on a major in college," she said. "Maybe psychology or journalism, but I'm thinking about what I want to do after college before I decide what direction I want to go in college. English has always a strong suit and I've always wanted to be involved in literature somehow. Plus I'm studying in journalism and would like to be an editor. I've always liked the idea of being the boss and making the decisions.
"With psychology, I just love interacting with people. I find the reasons behind why people do certain things fascinating. I'm taking AP psychology right now and it's very interesting. When I go off to college, I think it could be something I'm actively involved with and passionate about, because it's a great way to be able to work with people, not exclusively research, but being there working with people to help solve their problems. [Smiles.] Yeah, I'm a big sister to my friends a little."
It's those big sister instincts that may lead Payne to psychology, and perhaps it's a related maturity that has caused her to enjoy the relative peace and quiet that the end of her recruitment has brought.
"Oh, I'm thrilled [my recruitment is over]," Payne said. "Honestly, I feel truly blessed – I had so many options and I understand not many people have that, but I didn't estimate how stressful it would be to listen all the schools. All the universities sound so amazing, and they all want you, and it's hard to turn people down and decide what's best for me, and that's just really stressful. People are calling all the time, and it's a way to hush everyone up, once you're finally committed. It's also nice to know where I'm going, so instead of thinking about that, I get to spend time meeting the girls I'm going to play with and being excited about the school I'm going to."
And, finally, while she's not yet eligible to don the cardinal and white, Payne is following the Stanford games avidly this year, especially one in about a month's time.
"Oh yeah, I'm excited that I live so close that I get to go to so many games," she said. "And UConn better watch out. I think we have a shot."
Stay tuned to The Bootleg for more from the remaining members of the 2011 "six-pack".
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!