Senior guard Gary Payton II elevates his game on the practice court

This article was originally appeared in The Daily Barometer on November 3, 2015.  It has been republished with the author’s permission.

Gary Payton II collected a pass at the elbow, turned to the hoop and shot.

Airball.

It was during a practice, after all, and Payton II has built an Allen Iverson-like reputation as a ‘gamer’ — a player who delivers his best performances in games as opposed to practices.

“They be on me about practice, but at the end of the day we talking about practice,” Payton II said with a laugh, echoing Iverson’s 2002 monologue. “It’s just practice, you know? It’s not the game, we talking about practice… Once game comes, I’ll be there and ready. I’ll lace them up and get busy.”

Payton II was joking at least to a certain degree, though his game stats from last year speak for themselves. In his first year at OSU, the Seattle native led the Beavers in points, rebounds and steals while being named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

“He’s definitely a gamer, and I think he’ll be the one to tell you that also,” said freshman forward Tres Tinkle, who added that Payton II claims Allen Iverson’s practice rant originally came from Payton II’s father, NBA Hall of Famer Gary Payton.

Payton II has actually closed the gap between his practice and game efforts, according to head coach Wayne Tinkle. The second-year coach’s arrival from Montana coincided with Payton II’s transfer from Salt Lake Community College and says he has noticed plenty of growth in Payton II’s practice habits.

“He’s had a really good offseason in understanding the importance of preparation and practice,” coach Tinkle said. “He’s put in a lot of time in his shooting. (Last week) I saw him warming up and I said, ‘The hard work is paying off, you’re shooting better.’ He’s the guy that loves being in the gym and putting in the work. He’s been practicing as good as we’ve ever seen him.”

Still, Payton II doesn’t have any qualms about declaring himself to be a gamer.

“I got a couple airballs here and there, but it’s practice,” he said.

What does he do when his shot misses everything?

“Shoot it again,” he said. “There’s an 80 percent chance I’ll make it in a game.”

According to senior forward Jarmal Reid, there’s one clear-cut way to kick Payton II into high gear in a game or practice: make him frustrated.

“There was one day in practice where he was trying to be a facilitator but guys were dropping passes,” Reid said of an Oct. practice. “He was just like, ‘Alright, forget it.’ On both ends of the floor, he just took over. Especially on defense, man. He was getting steals, blocking shots; he’d get a rebound and dunk on you. It was good to see that Gary in practice every now and then. It was game-time Gary in a practice situation, and that’s rare coming from him. It got a lot of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ from us, even his teammates.”

Payton II didn’t take long to get comfortable with Pac-12 basketball last year, though he laughs while remembering his first shot in a collegiate game. In the exhibition opener against Western Oregon Payton II airballed his very first attempt.

“First airball and last of the season,” Payton II said. “That was the first shot of my college career, so I had to get that out.”

OSU will open this season versus Western Oregon as well, tipping off Thursday at 7 p.m. in Gill Coliseum and giving the Beavers a chance to avenge their 57-47 loss a year ago. Though the Beavers lost that game, Payton II and his teammates quickly bounced back and started 14-0 in home games. In the regular season opener against Rice, Payton II recorded his first points in a Division-I basketball game on a two-handed dunk in the first half.

He didn’t slow down after that, posting a team-leading 13.4 points per game while shooting 48.5 percent from the field. Though it was his first year at OSU, Payton II’s offensive skill set was developed enough to feature him in the Beavers’ offense.

“He sticks to his game,” Reid said. “You’re never going to see Gary doing something and be like, ‘Oh, he’s never done that before.’ That’s the best part about it, he stays within himself and stays team-oriented.”

One of the biggest assets Payton II utilized was rebounding; he led the team in offensive and defensive rebounds and often created second chances after snagging his own misses.

Now, Payton II said the biggest area of his game he’s looking to improve is his long-range shooting. He connected on 29.4 percent of his 3-pointers last year. Meanwhile, he has shown flexibility within OSU’s offense even if there aren’t necessarily many plays designed for him in particular.

“We ran a couple of things for me, but not necessarily (a lot last year),” he said. “I just made it my own. Coach usually had plays for different players but when I get the ball, I just try to make a play.”

When Payton II does have a designed play, it’s often to get him on the block or high post and utilize his height advantage at 6-foot-3 over other guards. His 3-point attempts usually came in transition or in the flow of the half-court offense.

With one season at OSU under his belt, Payton II may be primed to top his 13.4 points per game from last year, though he will likely have to play fewer minutes with more depth on the roster.

“I feel like he’s going to have more (points), but not by a large margin,” Reid said. “I could see him around the 15, 16 (points per game) area. Because with more experience and more practice, he’s going to be more consistent… Last year he was trying to stay afloat when he first came in because we were all in the same situation. Now, he has a more cemented role.”

Payton II will have his share of airballs in practice. He’ll also have his share of dunks in games. And if coach Tinkle’s assertion about his senior guard’s practice ethic remains true, Payton II’s 3-point shooting will skyrocket.

In games as well as practices, that is.

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