Six years ago Stephen Curry was simply a wiry point guard from Davidson.
Though he had the led the country in scoring as a junior and taken the NCAA Tournament by storm as a sophomore - helping the Wildcats to an Elite Eight berth - he was surrounded in the 2009 NBA Draft by a handful of high profile point guards, including Brandon Jennings, Ricky Rubio, Jeff Teague and Ty Lawson.
Yet tomorrow night it will be Curry, not any of the other 10 point guards selected in that first round, who will stand in the spotlight on the league's biggest stage in the NBA Finals. It's Curry who has transformed from mid-major point guard with one skill - superb outside shooting - to the league MVP and one of the game's best players.
And it's been Curry's rise to stardom that has given Murray State point guard Cameron Payne the confidence that he, too, can be the next mid-major gem.
"He came from a mid-major, now he’s the MVP," Payne said at last month's NBA Draft Combine. "So that obviously gives you an opportunity and to know that you have a chance. You don’t always have to go to a high major. You’ve just got to be best fit. You go to the best fit, you can do great anywhere."
Payne, 6-foot-2, likely will be the first member of the Ohio Valley Conference to be selected in the first round. An unranked three-star guard - just like Curry - from Tennessee just two years ago, was named the OVC Freshman of the Year and named to the conference's first team after averaging 16.8 points and 5.4 assists per game.
He proved his first year was no fluke as a sophomore, becoming one of two players in the country to average at least 20 points, six assists and 2.4 3-pointers per game. It vaulted himself onto the national stage as a legitimate first-round prospect. Now, in pre-draft workouts, he's faced with the task of proving the numbers he put up in a mid-major conference were just as impressive as his fellow point guards who competed at high-major programs.
There's Duke's Tyus Jones, Ohio State's D'Angelo Russell, Notre Dame's Jerian Grant and five-star recruit Emmanuel Mudiay, who opted to play in China for a year instead of attending SMU. In fact, Payne admitted at the combine he told an unspecified team in a pre-draft interview that he answered Jones when asked which point guard he's better than yet not ranked higher than, citing Jones' All-Star cast around him that included a pair of lottery picks in Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow.
"I’m a mid-major and I definitely got overlooked, so I try to do the best I can and show that I belong," he said.
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Payne's going to make his mark at the next level as a playmaking point guard. He excelled in pick-and-roll situations and shot nearly 38 percent from beyond the arc, and he was a stout defender averaging 1.9 steals per game. He still has work to do; at 183 pounds he's been working in the pre-draft process to add muscle.
Thanks to Curry, and more recently Damian Lillard (Weber State), C.J. McCollum (Lehigh) and Ray McCallum (Detroit) before him, Payne is entering the process with an admitted swagger that being a mid-major player doesn't mean he can't make a high-major impact in the NBA.
"I really have confidence in my game and I play with so much emotion and I never let anybody tell me I can’t do something," he said. "I haven’t made it yet, but I got the opportunity to make it."