With so much hype leading up to the 2014 NBA Draft such as NBA Free Agency, coaching changes and possible trades, it seemed as if the event that features the next generation of professional athletes in the NBA had been overshadowed. Surrounding the often anxiously anticipated draft was entertaining the conversation that highlighted the past season of many NBA franchises to consider “tanking” the 2013-2014 season, eventually having a much better opportunity to land an assumed future franchise player. In addition, the decision of who the Cleveland Cavaliers would pick as the overall #1 made things more interesting as 3 freshmen, Andrew Wiggins (Kansas), Jabari Parker (Duke) & Joel Embiid (Kansas) led the way as the obvious consensus. Needless to say, following the 1984, 1996 and 2003 draft, this year is expected to be 1 of the very best draft classes in NBA history highlighted by Wiggins, Parker, Embiid, Julius Randle (Kentucky), Aaron Gordon (Arizona), Dante Exum (Australia), amongst many other high quality players possibly leading deep into the 2nd round. Wiggins joined the likes of many Hall of Fame players when he was taken by Cleveland at number 1. Parker followed suit being drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks at #2 and Embiid, who’s recent injuries (back and foot) have hindered his stock as of late was taken by Philadelphia at #3 after seemingly front-running the top pick for weeks in many experts’ mock drafts.
The Atlanta Hawks, being the very 1st team to pick outside the lottery (15) has reformed it’s mentality while implementing a new system since the hiring of General Manager Danny Ferry and more recently added Head Coach Mike Budenholzer. Budenholzer, a longtime assistant via San Antonio who won multiple titles under the teaching of current Head Coach Gregg Popovich, has brought new life to the Atlanta Hawks organization and it’s fan base. In conclusion to his rookie season, it took many fans of the league by surprise when he led his #8 seeded “new look” Atlanta Hawks to a 7 game series vs. #1 seeded Indiana Pacers which let’s be honest, not many of us expected. Indiana escaped with a 92-80 victory (don’t be misled by margin) and went on to play Washington in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Budenholzer ensured that Atlanta and their fans had no reason to hang their heads as it was then clear that the landscape of success for the Atlanta sports market was once again back on the rise although adding that there’s still plenty of work to do over the upcoming offseason.
1 of those work objectives was to add a fitting piece of the puzzle 1 guy at a time into the scheme in which Atlanta plans to not just meet expectations, but to exceed them. Thursday night they did just that when drafting Adreian Payne, a 6 foot 10 inch 239-pound “stretch” Power Forward senior from Michigan State. A lethal pick & pop jump shooter that ranges out well beyond the NBA’s 3-point line adding athleticism, defensive presence in his shot-blocking abilities and most importantly leadership & experience. Payne was every bit of that and more for the Spartans a year ago where he led MSU to an overall 29-9 record after suffering from Plantar Fasciitis ultimately leading to a right foot sprain causing him to call his former high school coach for advice all the while missing nearly 8 games during his senior season including his favorite rival (Ohio State) being from Dayton, Ohio. Showcasing a 7 foot 4 inch wingspan and 9 foot 1 inch standing reach, his versatility as an inside/outside player is remarkable and a rarity in today’s game. Furthermore, a sudden case of mononucleosis kept Adreian from participating in the NBA Draft combine.
Injuries weren’t the only tragic misfortune that he had to overcome this season. During the 2012-2013 season, Payne met Michigan State fanatic, 8-year old Lacey Holsworth who suffered from a rare cancerous disease (Neuroblastoma) and little did he know at that time that his life on and off the court would change forever. Instantly, the 2 became best friends, as Lacey grew immensely close to not only Adreian but to the Michigan State basketball program and it’s University. On Adreian’s senior night, he walked out onto the court with his princess in hand and also allowed her to climb the ladder and cut down the nets after an MSU defeat vs. in-state rival Michigan in the Big Ten Conference Tournament. Lacey unfortunately deceased as her story with the forward lived throughout the hearts of many and gained national recognition known as ‘Princess Lacey’. Known as “AP” to teammates but as ‘Superman’ to Lacey, Adreian still represents the personal relationship he’s grown to have over time with the Holsworth family by displaying the pink and blue interior suit jacket that read ‘Princess Lacey’ as a special dedication on draft night. Payne won the Wooden Outreach Humanitarian Award in the memory of Holsworth.
Moving forward, Adreian Payne now has his sights set on being a beneficial asset to the rotation with his skill, winning attitude and leadership to an Atlanta Hawks ball club seeking to reach higher heights next season.