Thunder Draft Night 2015

By Nick Gallo | Thunder Basketball Writer | mailbag@thunder-nba.com

Draft night in the NBA is perhaps the most hectic, uncertain time during the entire year, but when a team is prepared for everything like the Thunder is, it results in a higher chance of making effective decisions for the organization with both the short and long term in mind.

The Thunder started the night with the number 14 and number 48 overall selections, ready to enhance the currently assembled group in the best way possible throughout the night.

Just after 8:00 p.m. CT, General Manager Sam Presti and his staff selected Cameron Payne, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound point guard from Murray State University.

“When I heard my name called, a lot of things went through my head,” Payne said on a conference call with the Oklahoma City media. “It was like, Cam, you finally did what you always dreamed of. It was a great moment that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.”

The Memphis, Tenn. native and graduate from Lausanne Collegiate School spent two years at Murray State before declaring for the draft. During his freshman year, Payne averaged 16.8 points, 5.4 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals in 32.6 minutes per game. During his sophomore year, he averaged 20.2 points on 45.6 percent shooting, 6.0 assists, 3.7 rebounds and 1.9 steals in 32.2 minutes per contest.

As a sophomore, Payne was selected as the Lute Olson Player of the year, an award given to the top NCAA player with at least two seasons of experience. He also helped lead Murray State to one of its best seasons in school history, including a 25-game winning streak. He fell just three assists shy of Murray State’s single-season assist mark with 212, and he became the second-fastest player in school history to reach 1,000 career points, which he did in just 57 games. For his college career, Payne shot 35.9 percent from the three-point line.

Payne was also named the MVP of the Ohio Valley Conference, was an Honorable Mention AP All-America selection and made CBS Third Team All-America. Payne was unheralded coming out of high school and not highly recruited, but through hard work and a feel for the game, he became an elite prospect through his work at Murray State.

“Every day, there’s something new I can add to my game,” Payne said. “I’m going to keep doing it. Coming from a mid-major, I’ve never been given anything. I’m going to keep working to get everything I have.”

After donning a Thunder hat, walking across the stage at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, NY and shaking NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s hand, Payne spoke for the first time as a member of the Thunder on ESPN.

“I’m coming in with a chip on my shoulder,” Payne said. “I’m coming in with no bragging rights at all. I’m coming in to do the dirty work.”

He’s lauded as an intelligent point guard who has high-level vision and touch. For the Thunder, he’ll have the chance to compete for a role along the perimeter while learning from veterans Russell Westbrook and D.J. Augustin. During Payne’s pre-draft workout with the Thunder, the team had a chance to show how he might be utilized along with potential areas of improvement.

“I feel they really like my feel of the game and how I can fit into their offense,” Payne explained. “The Thunder is into run and gun. I’ve been doing that all my life. I think I can definitely come in and be an impact player right away.”

“I think (the Thunder) did a great job analyzing me,” Payne continued. “They knew more things about me than I knew about myself. They cracked my game down to the tee. They have already made me a better player. They took me into the film room and put me to the test already. I’m looking forward to continuing to do it.”

Just before 11 p.m. CT, it was time for the Thunder to make its second round pick, number 48 overall. Presti and his staff chose Dakari Johnson, a 7-foot, 255-pound center out of the University of Kentucky.

The Brooklyn, N.Y. native and graduate of Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla. spent two seasons in Lexington with the Wildcats, averaging 5.8 points on 53.7 percent shooting along with 4.6 rebounds in 78 contests while averaging 16.3 minutes per game.

Johnson started 18 contests over the past two seasons and helped Kentucky reach two Final Fours, including the Wildcats’ undefeated regular season, SEC conference championship and trip to the Final Four in 2015 to compile a 38-0 record before falling to Wisconsin in the NCAA semifinals. During his sophomore campaign, Johnson scored in double figures on 11 occasions and registered two double-doubles.

The active, physical big man has a nice touch around the basket and is a bruiser in the paint. He represented the United States at the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship, where the squad compiled an 8-0 record and won the Gold Medal.