Imprinted Sportswear/Goodfellow Printing's Cully Payne (3) brings the ball down the court during the team's game against Mike Gatens Real Estate/McCurrys on the opening night of the Prime Time league Monday, June 15, 2009 at the North Liberty Community Center in North Liberty. (Brian Ray/The Gazette)
NORTH LIBERTY — Iowa Coach Todd Lickliter recruited point guard Cully Payne to run the show for the Hawkeyes. Last night, Payne showed that he might be ready for the job.
Payne, a 6-foot incoming freshman from Schaumberg, Ill., passed the ball with both consistency and flair during his team’s Prime Time League game. He controlled the game’s tempo, moved well without the ball and shot the ball decently from the outside. It was just one outing of many for Payne, but he showed he’s going to compete for more than just playing time this year.
“He’s a great shooter, great passer,” said incoming Iowa sophomore Aaron Fuller, who plays with Payne on Imprinted Sportswear/Goodfellow Printing. “He’s only going to get better. He’s young. I’m excited to see how he progresses throughout the summer.”
Payne scored 12 points and dished two assists in his team’s 89-74 win against Mike Gatens Real Estate/McCurry’s. Often the best passes he made helped get people in position to get to the basket, which didn’t count for assists.
Early in the second half he sank three-pointers from the left perimeter on consecutive possessions. Later in the game from the right side of the basket, the left-handed Payne faked to the post then drove to the hoop and scored on a layup with his right hand.
“I felt comfortable,” Payne said. “I wasn’t nervous or any of that stuff. It was fun for me.
“I’m really working on ball screens and getting a lane created for people, which a true point guard really does a lot of. … I think I’m pretty good off the ball screen and I can really distribute which I think will be good for us.”
Payne was a late addition to the Hawkeyes. He originally committed to DePaul and later signed with Alabama. After a coaching change, he was released from his scholarship and was interested in Iowa. Lickliter locked him up on the first signing date this spring.
Iowa also needs a point guard this year. Jeff Peterson and Jake Kelly started every game at the point last year but both transferred after the season, as did reserve guard Jermain Davis. Anthony Tucker is the only returnee with point guard experience, but he played in only half of Iowa’s games before becoming academically ineligible.
“They’re looking for me to kind of control the tempo and be a true point guard and do the control thing, which I tried to do (last night),” Payne said.
Payne suffered a hairline fracture in his back last season and missed his high school team’s final 14 games. But the injury has healed, and Payne was cleared to play by his doctor.
“I feel good. I’m at 100 percent,” he said. “Actually I went to the orthopedic today for a checkup and everything is good to go.
“It was an overuse injury. I got undercut twice in a high school game, and I fell on my back. Finally, I was in so much pain, I went in and they said it was a hairline fracture.”
Payne has played pick-up basketball with his future teammates for about a week. He said he’s trying to soak in as much knowledge of the Iowa system as he can.
Incoming Iowa sophomore Matt Gatens said he likes the way Payne competes from his limited time with the incoming freshman.
“I think (Payne) knows he’s going to have to come in right away because we’re kind of short-handed at that position,” Gatens said. “I’ve got great confidence in him. He’s shown a lot in the first week or so, and he’s shooting the ball up better than I was told he could shoot it so that’s definitely huge for us.
“He takes care of the ball and it seems like he plays with a lot of confidence. It’s a good thing for a point guard and something we’re going to need.”