The USA Basketball U-19 team spent last weekend practicing at the Verizon Center before heading to Prague for the FIBA U-19 World Championship. Most of the players are household names from legendary colleges, but there is one guy proudly representing the Sun Belt.
Elfrid Payton graduated high school in Louisiana as an all-state player on a top-ranked team, but decided to enroll at LA-Lafayette. After leading his team in steals as a freshman despite starting only 11 games, he broke out last year by starting all 33 games and leading the conference in both assists and steals. Many players have athletic blood lines, but very few basketball players have a father who is a Hall of Fame football player (albeit the CFL). Jon Teitel got to spend some time talking with Payton about getting contacts and winning a game with six players on the court.
Your father Elfrid played defensive line in the Canadian Football League and was inducted into the CFL Hall of Fame in 2010. What kind of genetic advantage has he given you? I got some of his height, as well as a pair of long arms.
You have five sisters: how easy was it growing up? It was kind of tough, but I had a lot of male friends.
In January 2012 you made a game-winning layup with three seconds left in a two-point overtime win at Western Kentucky with 6 players on the court, what are your memories of that crazy ending? Our coach drew up a play for me to come off a screen. The drawing showed where the five guys belonged on the court, but then we ended up having a sixth guy inbound the ball. We were holding the ball for the last shot and could hear the crowd screaming that we had six guys on the court.
After your freshman year you began wearing contacts: what impact has that had on you on the court? I always knew that I needed glasses/contacts but I never thought it mattered that much. The contacts have certainly helped, but so have the hours of work that I have put in on my jump shot.
You started each of your team’s 33 games last year. How do you feel about playing for team USA where any one of the 12 players is capable of starting? It is great to be surrounded by talent and I am ready to accept whatever role is necessary. I am not into stats: my goal is to win a gold medal.
You were only one rebound shy of a triple-double in a five point loss at FIU in January. Did you realize how close you were to that magical mark? A little bit, but I did not know exactly where I stood. I go after it every game and am probably going to get it soon!
You made a game-winning layup with six seconds left in a one-point win over Florida Atlantic in February. Where does that rank among the most exciting games of your career? It was a great game. I had to play a lot of defense against one of the top scorers in the country (Greg Gantt). I got a steal toward the end of the game, got fouled, and made two free throws. We made another defensive stop and then our coach drew up the final play. I had the ball in isolation at the top of the key: after backing up I almost got called for a backcourt violation. I drove to the hoop and kissed it off the glass, it was very exciting.
You were one of three division players last year to average at least 15 points, five rebounds and five assists per game. Do you consider yourself to be one of the best all-around players in the country? I do think highly of my abilities, but I still have much work to do in order to get where I want to go.