The Pacers, who currently hold the No. 11 pick and have less than a 3 percent chance to move into the top three in the lottery, have followed Payne as he shepherded Murray State to a 25-game winning streak — only then-undefeated Kentucky won more consecutive games. During the Racers' successful stretch, Payne averaged 21 points per game.
"We followed him all year," Pacers' president of basketball operations Larry Bird said. "We know he can shoot it, he can drive it. He's a playmaker. His size is against him a little bit but he's a nice little player. He didn't play against top schools but that doesn't mean he can't play."
A long way from Lausanne Collegiate School in Memphis, where he won the Tennessee Class 2A Private School state championship, Payne mixes Southern manners with a healthy dose of self-assurance. While meeting with media at the combine, Payne answered questions with 'Yes ma'am' and 'No sir' while still exhibiting a boyish bravado.
"I feel like I can bring a little bit more leadership," Payne said, responding to a question on how he thought he could improve a particular Eastern Conference playoff team. "And I can definitely bring my swagger."
During Thursday's combine, Payne worked through a shooting drill with Bird and several other representatives from the Pacers watching courtside. But as Bird revealed, the Pacers have long known about Payne's abilities and his poise.
"He should (be confident) and he's really going up the draft board pretty quick here," Bird said. "That gives a guy a lot of confidence, so I think he's going to be all right."