Cameron Payne already had the respect of his peers.
Wednesday night, he earned the respect of one of the Ohio Valley Conference’s top coaches.
“He’s just a freshman, but Cam Payne, he’s Murray State’s next Isaiah Canaan,” Eastern Kentucky head coach Jeff Neubauer said, moments after Payne dropped 19 points in a 77-64 dismissal of his Colonels. “He’s a really talented guard and the way he can control the basketball, he doesn’t get flustered, just makes them a team that’s very difficult to guard.”
And Neubauer found that out the hard way.
The Racers never trailed the Colonels Wednesday night, and senior Dexter Fields helped get Murray State the lead by making his first three 3-pointers.
Following the game, however, Fields pointed to Payne as a major factor for the Racers’ 3-0 start in Ohio Valley Conference play.
“Cam has been consistent all three games of this conference season,” Fields said. “He had 19 points tonight and he’s doing everything. He went out and got seven boards, five assists and he had three blocks and three steals. I mean, he’s really filling the stat sheet lately.”
And Fields says Payne is a perfect fit for Murray State.
“He doesn’t get rattled at all and that’s the kind of point guard we need,” Fields said. “He had some tough shoes to fill when Zay Jackson went down and I think he’s doing an excellent job of doing that.”
Payne opened up his OVC career with three-straight 3-pointers against Southeast Missouri State Jan. 2 on his way to a career-high 23 points, then followed that up two nights later with 27 points against UT-Martin, also knocking down his first three 3-point attempts against the Skyhawks.
The 6-foot-2 Payne is averaging 23.0 points per game in OVC play, best on the team, and also leads the Racers in assists (5.0) and ranks second in rebounds (6.0).
Murray State head coach Steve Prohm, who recruited Canaan as an assistant under former head coach Billy Kennedy, said Payne has the potential to be a special player over the next three years and change.
“Cameron is good, he’s a good player,” Prohm said. “He’s starting to continue to mature as the leader of our team. I really want him to push the basketball if he can because he’s so good in transition and crafty, but he really made some good plays (against EKU), finding people and getting to the rim.
“He ran our team and as a he continues to get stronger and stronger and defends, he’s going to continue to grow into a very good player.”
In regards to Neubauer’s comments, Payne is flattered to get mentioned in the same breath as Canaan, but the Memphis, Tenn., native said he’s got a long way to go to get better.
“I’ve been getting in early, getting shots up, but coach has been on my butt these past couple practices and these past couple of games, and it’s carried over into the games,” Payne said. “I’m starting to get a lot more confidence, that and I’m starting to have a lot more fun.
“Coach has told me that I’m going to make some freshman mistakes, but he said I just needed to keep playing like myself.”
And so far, Cam Payne being Cam Payne has served as more than enough for Prohm and the Racers.
“He’s a special talent,” Prohm said. “He’s got a very bright future here, we just have to make sure we keep him engaged defensively and keep getting him better in every area of the game.”