After giving myself a day to sort out my thoughts about Iowa’s first round loss in the Big Ten Tournament to Michigan for the third straight year, I have finally come up with something relevant to say (and it’s not about Lickliter!).
Although this has been a site that usually is passionate in wishing for Lickliter’s dismissal, there are more positive things that need to be harped on, things that were over shadowed by all of the rumors floating around about “He who must not be named”. So I want to take this time to talk about a player that worked his ass off for “He who must not be named” all season long. I want to talk about a player that gave me a lot of hope for the future after Thursday's performance. I want to talk about a player that I think will emerge as a true leader of this team. I want to talk about a player that seems a little arrogant and even cocky. I want to talk about a player that might possibly mean more to the program than Matt Gatens (feel free to Gasp at that. I do realize to some that saying that is the equivalent of swearing in church).
This player is a true freshman that stepped into Carver Hawkeye Arena as Lickliter’s most decorated recruit this season. He stepped into a program that lost three of their best ball handlers and true point guards in the two seasons before him. He is a kid that got beat up time after time after time, but never gave in and never quit. This is a kid that played with passion, persistence, and dedication; not only to “He who must not be named” offensive style, but to the game of basketball.
He isn’t the player that dazzles the media with flashy plays and strong perimeter shooting. He’s a player that dives after loose balls and runs like it is the last time he will ever run. He's a player that somehow managed to facilitate an offense that was stagnate (and that is putting it nicely). He is a kid that may have had his share of freshmen mistakes but played beyond his years for most of the season, especially Thursday afternoon at Canseco Fieldhouse.
Cully “Superman” Payne played the best game of his young collegiate career against Michigan and literally matured right in front of Hawkeye Nation. The freshman that committed and de-committed to both DePaul and Alabama before deciding on Iowa could be a key part in the revamp of the Hawkeye men’s basketball program. He might be the Superman we need to rescue the Hawkeyes from their major land slide.
For those that didn’t watch the game, Payne had a career high 25 points by going nine of sixteen from the field. He nailed both of his two free throw attempts and shot 50% from down town nailing five of ten (also a career high and career best).
He single handedly kept Iowa in a game that looked like it was going to be a painful castration.
Hawkeye fans shouldn’t have been surprised either. He has been a horse for Iowa all season long, doing a little bit of everything for the young team. He was second on the team in minutes played (33.4), he was first in assists (3.8, which led all freshman), and fifth in scoring (8.7). Though those numbers look small, you have to look in between the lines with Cully. Remember he is a true freshman, so those numbers aren’t so bad, especially considering he was playing without a back-up. He racked up a ton of minutes this season which means that next year he will have the same amount of experience as some juniors. He was part of an offense that didn’t fit his natural abilities and was continuously learning on the fly, which must have added to the difficulty.
Up until yesterday, we never truly got to see the Cully Payne that Illinois and Schaumburg natives boasted about. He often looked extremely timid and seemed way to afraid to make a mistake. Understandable considering the horror stories that I've heard about Lickliter and mistake making point guards (see Jeff Peterson). But yesterday was something magical, something unique, some what of a coming out party for Cully.
Now I had a theory before I even heard about the Lickliter rumors. I had a feeling that Payne got the green light to play his style of hoops for one reason or another. To me it seemed like he knew of a firing in the making, and either decided he would showcase his talents for future coaches or as I said received a green light to run wild (I wrote this in the diary, check it out). But if “The Todd” does end up getting a nice settlement package on his way out the door, Hawkeye fans have got to like what they saw in Payne, especially in the last 10 or so games of the season (we are of course forgetting about the awful Minnesota game he had).
It was hard to realize how magical Thursday was with this kid. His performance was eclipsed by “He who must not be named” and the loss to Michigan for the third time. But I’m telling you, Payne just might be Iowa’s version of Superman (and “The Todd” is definitely Lex Luthor; his offensive style being the kryptonite).
He will be another year wiser, another year stronger, and another year quicker. He's a gym rat so you can expect him to work on his jumper throughout the offseason as well. Add in the fact that Ben Brust played on the same AAU team as Cully, and I like Iowa's odds right now (coach pending). This team is going to be good, real good. It may start this coming year (again coach pending), but the 2011-2012 season could be the year that kick starts the program into hyperdrive and starts putting butts back in the seats at Carver.
But I want say that no matter who the coach is next season, if Cully plays the way he did against Michigan Thursday afternoon, he just might save this Iowa basketball team. If he can build off that performance and continue to play with the “coolness” he played with yesterday, Cully “Superman” Payne will be leading his Hawkeyes deep into the Big Ten Tournament and March Madness during his junior and senior years.