Growing up in a single-parent home, Penn State Greater Allegheny Men’s Basketball Player Jordon Payne (McKeesport, PA./McKeesport HS) learned about the struggles of life from a very young age. Growing up with his little brother and little sister, it took a lot of hard work and determination to make things work and keep everyone on the right path.
It was the strength of Payne’s mother, Monica Payne, that got the family through and it is that strength that Jordon Payne builds on to be better both on the basketball court and in life every single day.
“It was just me, my little brother, my little sister, and my mom so you know it’s going to be tough on her,” said Payne. “She tried her best, did what she did, and raised two great young men and she is raising my younger sister. She got me here and kept me on the right path and she did what she had to do as a mother, and I appreciate her for that always. She is the number one person in my life.”
From the time he was three years old, Payne had a basketball in his hand and fell in love with the sport going to the basketball courts with his grandmother everyday trying to improve his game. As he got older, he turned from a kid who wanted to play basketball to becoming a star on the court.
It was stories from his mom’s playing days that motivated Payne’s transformation making him want to be the best that he could be and follow in his role model’s footsteps.
“My mom played basketball and I heard she was really good,” said Payne. “Her giving me stories made me want to be better than her. I look up to my mom, my mom’s my role model. She is an independent and very strong woman and that is the person I look up to and I want to be like her.”
That motivation followed him to McKeesport high school where he had a very successful four-year career. His teams combined to go 47-33 and made the playoffs in three out of his four seasons in a Tiger uniform. They made it as far as the WPIAL Semifinals in both his sophomore and freshman year and made another trip back in his senior year getting eliminated in the first round.
From a record standpoint, Payne and the Tigers improved every season going from an 11-11 team in his freshman year to a 14-7 team and perennial Class 3A powerhouse by his senior season. Payne’s best year came in his senior season when he averaged 14.6 points per game and was the second leading scorer for the Tigers.
“[My career at McKeesport] was amazing with the McKeesport environment period,” said Payne. “The whole city of McKeesport has your back through any varsity sport. They travel, we have great fans, one of the best fanbases in the WPIAL.”
As his career as a Tiger came to an end, Payne was looking for the next step in his basketball career. After looking at colleges across all levels of the game, it was a place in his own back yard that became home and allowed him to continue his pursuit of basketball.
“I always knew Penn State Greater Allegheny was here, but I never looked at it as a four-year school,” said Payne. “I never looked at how it could help me become better, but I always knew it was in my back yard. After going here, it opened my eyes and helped me a lot giving me a place to go to school.”
Initially, Payne had his doubts about college basketball. He was questioning if he was really ready for this and how he was going to take his skills from high school into college. It was a big step for Payne, but once he got on campus the welcoming community made him feel a part of the campus and allowed him to grow.
On the court, Payne got a chance to shine right from the start being named a starter in his freshman season. His head coach Tyler Care showed confidence in him and that allowed him to relax and let his skills shine.
“[Care] trusted me,” said Payne. “There was trust and once somebody trusts you, you want to motivate yourself to be better so the trust can continue. And once I got that trust everything else just fell into place.”
It was that trust that pushed Payne to be the best he could be and he quickly developed into one of the top weapons for PSUGA. In his sophomore season, Payne averaged 14.2 points per game and helped lead PSUGA to their first Penn State University Athletic Conference Championship in ten years.
Payne was the leading scorer in the PSUAC championship game scoring 29 points as his team picked up a 60-58 victory over top-seeded PSU-York. That whole season played out like a movie for Payne going from underdog to PSUAC Champions.
“Nobody thought we could do it sophomore year,” said Payne. “We played York the first time and we had a 40-point loss. We just kept fighting to get there and when we got there, we thought what are we going to do different? So, we stepped it up and when we finally won it all it was surreal. That whole season was just amazing and I felt like I was on top of the world.”
Payne would follow up his team’s championship campaign with his best statistical year in his junior season. He averaged 19.9 points per game and eclipsed the 1,000-point mark. He once again led his team to the PSUAC playoffs, but this time fell short losing in the PSUAC Semifinals.
He finished his PSUGA career as the second all-time leading scorer with 1760 points, falling just 86 points shy of the program record. Throughout his career, the three-time United States Collegiate Athletic Association All-American surrounded himself with great players and used their success to push himself to not just be as good as them, but to surpass them on the court.
“When I came in my freshman year, there was one person who I thought was better then me and I wanted to be better than and that was Jashaun Fontanez,” said Payne. “He could score everyway, he would get to the hole, shoot a three in your face, and make them all. I thought I had to prove myself and be better than him because he was the best and he motivated me.”
Throughout his career both at PSUGA and McKeesport, one constant stayed the same and that was the support Payne got from his family. His mom and siblings were there for every single moment and that alone made Payne’s career special.
“Every game I look to find my mom,” said Payne. “She is the person I want to see and I don’t care about anybody else. As soon as I see her, I say let’s get it, she is here it’s time to do what I do.”
It all added up to a special moment on February 12th 2019 when Payne was recognized on senior day and got to walk across the court with his mom and siblings at his side. All the years of support that his family had given him made the moment even better then Payne could ever imagine.
“That moment was amazing,” said Payne. “Many people who come here aren’t from around here so maybe their moms don’t get to walk with them. Having my mom here with me was the best feeling ever. Having her here watching play the sport I love and having her here by my side I am so thankful for it.”
When Payne came to PSUGA, it was to continue his basketball career and help him earn a degree. Four years later, it has done that and so much more helping him not only grow on the court and through his education, but in life as well keeping him on the straight and narrow.
“PSUGA helped me grow up to be a young man,” said Payne. “It has helped me be respectful and helped me grow into a better person. I wasn’t always like this growing up. It could have gone either way for me. Having people in my corner helping me grow up and see the bigger picture and it helped me know that basketball isn’t everything, there is more to it.”
While Payne decides where his basketball career will take him next, he is working on finishing his degree in Criminal Justice. Payne has been invited to the 2019 Eurobasket Summer League in New York and, while he doesn’t yet know where his career will lead him, he is working on pursuing the sport he loves.
No matter where his career takes him once thing will always be constant for Payne. The support of his family and his desire to always make them proud both on the court and in life.