NICK Payne’s basketball journey still feels like it started only yesterday.
Quite a feat, given the veteran Albury-Wodonga Bandits skipper will tonight become just the second player — after close friend and club icon, the late Allen McCowan — to top 300 SEABL games for the Border outfit when he takes to the court against Mount Gambier at the Icehouse.
In a glittering career filled with achievements, Payne is the only player to have played in both the Bandits’ conference championships, in 2001 and last year’s Cinderella squad.
He was also a SEABL All-Star in 2006, averaging
21.7 points, 5.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists a game.
The 31-year-old first took to the court for the Bandits in 1999, his debut so forgettable he can’t even remember his team’s opponent.
It was against Ballarat on March 13, 1999. In three minutes of court time, he missed all three shots he attempted as the Bandits triumphed on the road, 98-84.
“It seems to have gone quite quickly,” Payne said.
“I’ve had some great experiences and some not-so-good times but it’s been a lot of fun.
“As far as best moments go, definitely the 2001 championship. It was the club’s first title and, being able to play an important role in that, is a very fond memory.
“The title win last year was fantastic as well and making the All-Star team in 2006 was a very exciting and fun year, too.”
The 189-centimetre shooting guard said he had been “incredibly lucky” to have had input of a variety of coaches during his career but singled out Albury coach Carl Iverson’s tough love approach during his junior development as pivotal to his success.
“Going back to my junior days, it was definitely Carl Iverson,” Payne said.
“He was tough as nails and really hard on me when I was a little kid.
“His toughness definitely helped me a lot and he pretty much taught me how to shoot.
“Obviously, my parents have been really great support and I’ve been lucky to have some great coaches in the senior ranks.
“Leigh Gooding was a fantastic coach, Harry Morgan, Jim Wilson — I’ve been fortunate to have different coaches who have all taught me different things.”
With a core of good local players starting to come through the ranks, part of Payne’s focus now is to pay forward the knowledge imparted to him.
And although pundits have started to mark time on his playing days, the ever self-assured Payne insisted he still had plenty to offer the Border club.
“I try to share the knowledge and experiences I’ve gained along the way,” Payne said.
“People say I’m nearing the end of my career but I still say I’ve got a lot more to give.
“Whether that’s a leadership, scoring or defensive role, it changes from year to year.
“You take the opportunities and make the most of them.
“Hard work has been my attitude from day one.
“I’ve always prided myself on doing all the little things that people never see you do.
“Nowadays, people are posting on Facebook how hard they’re working but I still don’t believe that’s the way you go about it.
“You do those things because you want to make yourself better.”
Payne is definitely hoping history doesn’t repeat itself tonight.
Coincidentally, his 300th SEABL game — he played 57 games with the Knox Raiders over the 2008 and 2009 seasons — came against the Pioneers at the same venue two years ago.
The result that night for the Bandits?
An 81-58 beatdown by the less-than-welcoming hosts.
And, aside from the milestone factor, the SEABL’s defending champions desperately need a victory, presently riding a three-game losing streak.
It’s a tough weekend for the Bandits with a trip to Sandringham tomorrow night following tonight’s game against the Pioneers.
A pair of losses would leave the Border club teetering with a 1-6 record.
Payne acknowledged that the Bandits simply needed to score more or playoff oblivion awaited.
“Absolutely, we need a win, we just need to play with a bit more togetherness at the offensive end,” Payne said.
“Our defensive efforts have been quite good but we need a bit more flow on offence.
“If we play well, I think it’s possible we can get two wins this weekend.
“They’re two very tough teams but it’s an exciting challenge and one to look forward to.”
With so much focus on the struggles of new import guard Eric Vann, Payne took a somewhat different tack and called on the Australian contingent of the team to step up and deliver.
But Payne admitted there had to come a time for Vann’s shot selection and, hence, his scoring output, to improve.
“I think Eric is still finding his feet,” Payne said.
“We’re still finding out what makes him tick, what position he is more comfortable in and what he likes to do, we’re still finding the best way to get the best out of him.
“I think people are focusing on him too much. The lift needs to come from us Australian guys, it’s not Momo (Ntumba) or Eric, it’s Ben (Hollis), Alex (Opacic), myself and Jack Duck and Matt de Koeyer off the bench. We’re the ones who need to lift this team to the next level.
“The imports in our system have to be able to put points on the board; he hasn’t shot the ball well lately but I think that comes down to him finding a comfort level and selecting better shots.
“I don’t think the shots he’s taking in our offence are all that great at the moment.
“He’s a great athlete and once he gets used to the physicality of the league, I’m sure he’ll start putting some points up. Hopefully this weekend is a good time to start.”