CHICAGO — Former Murray State guard Cameron Payne talked a lot about "swagger" when he met with the media at the NBA Combine Thursday. Apparently, he took that same quality into his meetings with NBA teams here.
One team asked Payne what rival is unjustly rated better than him. Payne did not mince words.
"I said Tyus Jones," he said of Duke's one-and-done point guard.
That was saying something given how Duke won this year's national championship with Jones named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
When asked why he believed he was better than Jones, Payne said, "Just because he played on a great team. He got a lot of exposure through that team. He didn't have to carry his team like I did."
While many other players at the NBA Combine tried to say all the right things (so much chatter about dreams coming true you'd think everyone had narcolepsy), Payne spoke candidly.
Yes, he said, he's aware that Murray State, though consistently successful, is not a high-profile basketball program.
"Definitely puts me in an underdog position," Payne said. "I definitely play with a chip on my shoulder because I'm in a mid-major. I got overlooked."
Payne is used to it. He did not start on his AAU team. Because his father was an assistant coach on the team, people drew assumptions.
"Some people felt that the only reason I was there was because my dad was coach," Payne said. "That definitely was not the case."
Payne acknowledged that he did not look like a big-time player.
"My 12th-grade year, I looked like I was about 13," he said. "Weighed about 155. The eye test did a lot (of bad things) to me."
Coming out of Bartlett, Tenn., Payne had scholarship offers from Wichita State, Tulane, College of Charleston and Jacksonville in addition to Murray State. He chose the Racers because of the program's history of success and Isaiah Canaan advancing to the NBA.
Payne, who averaged 20.2 points this past season as a sophomore, noted how several players from mid-major schools made it. Steph Curry, the reigning MVP, went to Davidson.
"That, obviously, gives you opportunity," Payne said. "To know you have a chance. You don't always have to go to the high-major."
Jones acknowledged that Duke winning the national championship played a role in his decision to enter this year's NBA Draft.
"That's something that went into it," he said, "when you finish a season on top."
Jones was not asked directly after Payne said he was better. But he did say, "I do feel I'm the best pure point guard."
Aaron and Andrew Harrison were not the only roommates at the Combine already familiar with each other.
Former Notre Dame teammates Pat Connaughton and Jerian Grant are rooming together here.
"I can't get away from him," Connaughton said with a smile.
Christian Wood, a 6-10 forward from UNLV, said Kevin Durant was his favorite player. Wood would like to guard Durant.
"I know the guy's a killer," Wood said. "But I'd like to guard him to see how it goes."
When asked if he was starstruck, Aaron Harrison looked puzzled. He seemed to think the media person meant overly impressed with another player in the camp.
Once he realized it was a reference to NBA celebrities like Pat Riley, Larry Bird and Jerry West, Harrison's expression changed to one indicating he understood.
"I saw Jerry Sloan," he said. "Pretty cool."
Baseball or basketball
Connaughton's interest in pursuing baseball as well as basketball has the interest of NBA teams.
"Teams are worried that if baseball comes knocking on my door, I'd leave (basketball)," he said. "If that was the case, I'd be trying to get ahead in my baseball career."