At 31, Cal State San Marcos Basketball Player Keeps His Teammates Young
Monday, February 6, 2017
Aired 2/6/17 on KPBS News.
Stefawn Payne is a Marine staff sergeant, a 31-year-old college freshman, is happily married, a new father and he plays on his school's basketball team.
He stands right next to a basket and methodically works on his shot.
Each time Payne shoots, he bends his knees just so, checks his release point and makes sure the ball has the correct amount of spin on it.
Commitment, preparation, performance — values that have been drummed into Payne since he was a little kid. His dad was a Marine.
“So, you know, just growing up around it, I knew what I wanted to do," Payne recalled. "And then 9-11 happened when I was a junior. So that just kind of pushed me even more to want to join right out of high school.”
That is exactly what Payne did.
His first Marine deployment was to Iraq in 2004. He went back two times. He served in Afghanistan, too.
Now, at age 31, Payne is a staff sergeant. He is in a special Marine Corps program that pays him to get a college degree.
When Payne graduates, he will become a commissioned officer.
Payne has always loved basketball. He played in high school and on the base team at Camp Pendleton.
"During the base league season, you would play 50, 60 games within about five months. That's because (when) it's a long weekend, that's when they try to get all the games in," Payne said. "So you might play five or six games a weekend, back to back."
When Payne started taking classes at Cal State San Marcos last summer, he noticed the school’s new basketball arena. That gave him a wild idea.
“I was like, ahh, maybe I should play basketball — you know, see if I could play for the school," he said. "And I got in touch with the coaching staff, and they were like, 'yeah, come out, and try out when we do our walk-on tryouts.'”
B.J. Foster, the Cougars interim head coach, said his staff was just trying to find somebody who could help the team.
“We didn’t care how old, how big, or any of that. We just wanted to find somebody who could give us a little depth, maybe help us in practice, be a great teammate," Foster said. "And when he came out, and he played, he was by far the best player that came out there. He made a ton of shots that day. Obviously with his background, it was a no-brainer for us.”
Payne had to make sure it was OK with his wife, Cindy. After all, she was about to give birth to their first child.
“I said, 'go for it,'" Cindy said. "I mean, we both love basketball, and as long as he’s happy. He has an opportunity, he hasn’t been home for so long, traveling so much. So, I thought it was a good opportunity for him, and it was something that he had always wanted to do. He supports me in the things I do, so why not?”
When Payne walked onto the court, his new teammates didn’t know what to make of him.
Junior guard Josh Spiers remembered doing a double take.
“My first reaction when I saw him was like, ‘how old is this guy?’" Spiers recalled. "And he came in, like a big muscly dude. (We) don’t really see guys as big as him."
Payne showed that he could keep up with the youngsters.
Junior forward Joe Boyd said it is the things that Payne says off the court that make him special.
“Whether you win or lose, you gotta wake up the next day," Boyd remembered Payne saying. "You gotta keep grinding every single day. Just having him to put everything in perspective for us. Like this isn’t the end of world whether we lose a game or something like that. I think that’s been big for us.”
At a recent home game against the West Coast Baptist Eagles, Payne didn't start, but he brought a lot of energy and hustle off the bench.
Payne showed off his tenacious defense. He even swished a couple of jump shots.
It has been an up and down season for the Cougars. But through it all, Payne has helped his young teammates keep their spirits up.
That is one of the things he has learned in the Marine Corps, along with the importance of getting everyone to work together toward a common goal.
Payne said whether he is playing cards or basketball, he hates to lose, but he emphasized you can use losses as a motivational tool.
“If anything, losses for me push me and motivate me even more to continue to improve," Payne said. "Even at my age, you can always evolve.”
Payne plans to play on the team again next year. His wife, Cindy, said she is all for it.
"His chronological age might be 31, but physically, he’s in great shape, and he has great aspirations," she said. "And he can still keep up with the young guys — most of the time."
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