Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with South Carolina Upstate coach Eddie Payne about having all five starters returning from last year.
You return all five starters from last year. How big a factor do you think your team’s experience will be this season? I think it will be a significant factor: we have been through a lot of trials and tribulations so there will not be a lot of surprises. I think we will be a more consistent team.
One of those starters is Torrey Craig, the second player in Atlantic Sun history to lead the league in scoring in consecutive seasons. What makes him such a great player? The one thing that stands out to me is his ability to stretch defenses by making deep threes, but he can also grab a lot of garbage points around the basket.
Your non-conference schedule includes games against Virginia Tech, Tennessee, Cincinnati, and South Carolina. Which of these four games do you feel will present your biggest test? Cincinnati and Tennessee have more kids returning, so that would naturally lead you to believe they will be high-quality teams.
What are your expectations for the upcoming season? We expect to be competitive and in a position to win games. We are in a good league that historically has been a one-bid league, so we want to play our best basketball in March.
You played basketball at Wake Forest and won the Arnold Palmer Award as the school’s Outstanding Student-Athlete in 1973. How were you able to balance your work on the court with your work in the classroom? If you go to Wake Forest and want to stick around, you have to work at it a little bit! You have to take care of your responsibilities and prioritize what you do.
Your program made the leap to D-1 in 2007, what is the biggest difference between D-2 and D-1? From a basketball perspective, you start out as an under-capitalized small business for at least a few years. Size is also a big difference, and in some cases strength ia as well.
You had a 5-25 record in your first year as head coach at South Carolina Upstate in 2011, then went 21-13 in year two. How were you able to come in and turn things around so quickly? We had a lot of freshman playing a lot of minutes in 2011 and had nine guaranteed games, so we were a bit over-scheduled. In 2012 all four of our guards were freshman, so to win 21 games with that is pretty much unheard of: we were blessed to do that.
You finished that season by winning the Hugh Durham Award as the nation’s top mid-major coach. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor? I am smart enough to know that your players have everything to do with those types of awards. I would use the word “cool”: it was cool to win a national award like that, and I was proud that our program got some recognition.
In the 2013 CIT you had an eight point loss to Mercer. What did your team learn from that loss that you think can help you this year? We have a good league so you have to be prepared every night. I am not sure if we had a major epiphany, but there is a fine line between success and failure in the postseason so you cannot make mistakes.
You have an assistant coach with the same last name. How was it coaching your son Luke, and how do you like having him on your staff? Luke is a good coach because he was a good player. He was low maintenance, which made him easy to coach. It was a natural fit for him to step in because he knows our program and it has been a positive thing.