Thursday night was a big night for Michigan State, despite the university or their basketball team itself not actually doing much of anything. That's because two of the Spartans former top players were officially drafted into the ultimate level of their career: the professional league.
Adreian Payne and Gary Harris both left MSU with high hopes for their NBA careers. Harris left the program early after his sophomore year and both had assurances from not only their former head coach in Tom Izzo, but in the viewpoint of many analysts, as well, that they would likely go in the first round of the draft.
Those assumptions were not unfounded.
Both Payne and Harris were selected midway through the first round, with Payne going as the No. 15 pick overall to the Atlanta Hawks and Harris first being drafted by the Chicago Bulls at No. 19, though the pick was traded away to the Denver Nuggets, where Harris where ultimately end up.
It was a universally held belief by draft analysts that Gary Harris would go quicker than Adreian Payne would, but something seems to have gone amiss, or some last-minute decisions took place, because Harris' stock slid and he was taken in the second half of the first-round, rather than the first, as was expected.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” Harris told reporters in Denver after the draft concluded. “I was just waiting patiently until my name was called.”
Izzo was there at the Barclays Center with Harris and said that despite the surprising dip in value, Harris handled the situation quite well and was ready to accept whatever role he was given.
“I spent a little time with him,” Izzo said on Thursday night. “He was fine. You know Gary’s personality, I think sometimes he plays better with a little chip on your shoulder.”
As for his plan in Denver, Harris says he's going to keep it simple.
“I’m just going to go in there and compete and try to do anything I can to earn minutes and help the team win,” Harris said.
On the other hand, Payne had to be pleased with his high selection at No. 15 overall, and one might say the former big man at Michigan State had an old friend watching over him. With the cameras hovering close by, Payne stood out in a light blue suit accented with pink lining and stitching upon the inside jacket that said "Adreian and Lacey" -- an ode to his departed 8-year-old close friend, "Princess Lacey", who had followed his career for years but ultimately ended earlier this year in April when she died of cancer.
“I wanted to do something in her memory and something that would mean something to me, something that would stick out, something that was different, something I knew that she would really like,” Payne said on a teleconference Thursday night after the draft was over.
In the end, on a night when young men vie and compete for the attention of the public and sports media anyway that they can, Payne chose to take a more humble route...
“This was it, this was something I can do to help bring more awareness to her cancer and to cancer, really, for anything,” Payne said.
You can follow MSU writer, Michael Ferro, at twitter.com/MichaelFerro.