Commentary

Payne's motor is her best asset

Originally Published: June 22, 2009
By Glenn Nelson | HoopGurlz

Erica Payne doesn't rest so much as she pauses. Or recharges, like a battery. She seemed drained after a recent, typically hell-bent stint on the basketball court, and was asked if she could play again that day.

"Just give me a few minutes," Payne said, matter-of-factly.

The bunny could and would start banging the drum again shortly.

[+] EnlargeErica Payne
Glenn Nelson A rare shot of Erica Payne catching her breath.

Just emerging from her sophomore season at Carondelet High School in Concord, Calif., Payne plays and talks -- heck, lives -- as if time were about to run out and she was only halfway down some gigantically long to-do list.

"I was just watching her coach a bunch of little kids at a camp, and she was going 110 percent there, too," said her club coach, Mark Anger of East Bay Xplosion. "She's just got a great motor."

But it isn't just that motor that makes Payne, of Danville, Calif., No. 21 in the recently-released ESPN HoopGurlz Terrific 25 for 2011. There are other players who perform with the kind of always-plugged-in energy with which she crackles. But very few, if any, are 6 feet 2 and are defended by posts often with an inch or two and a barbell or two of gravity in their favor.

Payne describes herself as "kind of scrawny," however, she does have broad shoulders and a strong lower body that provides a sturdy base. Her quickness gives her a "you can't defend what you can't catch" advantage at the offensive end; she refuses to give much quarter at the defensive end, where her athleticism and all-out approach also make her an excellent help defender.

"If I'm playing against girls who are a lot stronger than me, I have to use my speed, I have to block out and try to out-jump them for rebounds, I have to outrun them in order to compensate," Payne said. "That's just the way it is."

It's a way that helped Carondelet to the 2009 California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division II championship game, where the Cougars lost to Brea Olinda. That capped a second straight memorable season for Payne at a school whose notable alumni includes Jayne Appel, the reigning Pac-10 Player of the Year at Stanford. Payne spent her freshman season as a teammate of sister Leah, now on soccer scholarship at Texas.

Payne calls the sisterly season, "the best experience ever." She also played soccer, but there wasn't enough time in the day -- even an Erica Payne day -- to accommodate both sports, so she hung up her cleats after the seventh grade.

[+] EnlargeErica Payne
Glenn NelsonErica Payne isn't afraid to challenge bigger post players.

The Payne household has been a veritable SportsCenter set. Brother Zach was a star center at De La Salle, father Harry played for Northern Arizona and mother Laurie played basketball in high school and also was a track star.

Payne learned the basics from her father, who coached her on a youth club team called the Tri-Valley Wildcats. Harry Payne set his daughter on a path to becoming what she envisions as a forward who can handle, shoot and pass like a wing. He also had a bigger impact on his hyperkinetic daughter.

"I have a tendency to rush," Payne said. "Dad told me to slow down and control my play."

Under control for Erica Payne is still like most other players on fast forward. Though she is focusing on a 15-to-17-foot jumper this summer, her energy remains the foundation of her game. Her coaches, Anger and Margaret Gartner at Carodelet, talk about not being able to take her off the court because she's so indispensable.

"She has boundless energy and a drive to win," Anger said. "She makes everyone around her better."

If there is a way, Payne has the will.

"I look at basketball being 32 minutes," she said. "I sprint for 32 minutes, then get to rest. If I get a couple minutes breather, I can go again. I've been playing basketball since I was in preschool. I've played multiple games a day that whole time. It's what I'm used to."

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Glenn Nelson is a senior writer at ESPN.com and the founder of HoopGurlz.com. A member of the Parade All-American Selection Committee, he formerly coached girl's club basketball, was the editor-in-chief of an online sports network, and was a longtime, national-award-winning newspaper columnist and writer. He can be reached at glenn@hoopgurlz.com.