LARRY LAGE,AP Sports Writer
EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) — People within Michigan State’s basketball program, including coach Tom Izzo, and those on the outside expected Adreian Payne to skip his senior season because teams in the league projected him to be a first-round pick.
“Coach did think so,” Payne said. “A lot of people did.”
He stunned everybody, announcing his decision Sunday night just hours before the deadline for underclassmen to enter the NBA draft.
“I was pleasantly surprised, if you want the truth,” Izzo acknowledged.
The decision likely makes Michigan State a top-five team going into next season and perhaps pushes Payne into the top 10 of the 2014 NBA draft.
It also puts him in a position to earn an interdisciplinary-studies degree in what has been a remarkable leap in the classroom from a student diagnosed as cognitively disabled as a child in Dayton, Ohio.
“I like doing things the right way,” he said. “With me graduating, I’m able to set a standard and be a role model for kids to look up to so I can give hope to another child that may have the same situation as me to let them know that it’s possible.”
Payne averaged 10.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks as a junior last season. He produced more in each category in the NCAA tournament. The 6-foot-10, 240-pound forward added a 3-point shot last season. He made 16 of 42 after connecting one of two 3-pointers during his first two years with the Spartans.
Big Ten freshman of the year Gary Harris announced last week he was staying at Michigan State for his sophomore season.
Michigan State will be without only one player, departing senior center Derrick Nix, from last season’s team that won 27 games, finished second in the Big Ten and advanced to NCAA tournament’s round of 16.
Payne will be part of a starting lineup next season that will include fellow senior Keith Appling and Harris in the backcourt and junior forward Branden Dawson with one spot up for grabs.
The roster will also include returning guards Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine and forwards Matt Costello and Alex Gauna. Incoming freshmen guard Alvin Ellis III and forward Gavin Schilling will add depth in the backcourt and frontcourt.
Michigan State will be aiming to make it to the Final Four to keep a streak alive. Every Izzo recruit who stayed four years has been on a team in the national semifinals. Payne and Appling, who were in the same recruiting class, were seniors in high school in the last time Izzo led the Spartans to the Final Four.
“That’s very important,” Payne said. “I think we’re very motivated, Keith and I, to lead the team to a Final Four and a national championship. I think we have a great team, we have the pieces.”
Izzo decided to stay at Michigan State three years ago, turning down a chance to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers. Izzo said it gave him a boost of energy that led to coaching in a sixth Final Four. He looked at Payne, sitting alongside him at a news conference, and said he expected his decision to stay to set up the program for another run to the Final Four.
“And, I’m demanding the same,” Izzo said.
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