Girls basketball: Valley senior Payne gains attention
SMITHERS, W.Va. -- The hills where Kanawha and Fayette counties meet are full of coal.
What they are not full of is people, television stations or newspapers. That is why the one diamond produced by those same hills has gone largely unnoticed around the state.
Valley High senior Alexis Payne has led the Greyhounds girls basketball team to an 8-3 record and a No. 8 ranking in this week's Associated Press poll.
The 6-foot Payne is averaging 26 points and 23 rebounds per game and has begun to garner notice from college coaches.
"Just about every game, she has had a double-double," said first-year Valley Coach Richie Cantrell. "And that is with two and three players guarding her."
Last season, she was a second-team All-State pick after averaging 21.9 points per game for a 6-14 squad.
Before that, she earned honorable mention. That was after averaging 16.9 points in 2010-11 and 16.3 points as a freshman, while averaging double figures in rebounds each season.
A State Tournament trip and selection to the All-State first team is about all that is missing from her high school career.
Payne scored her 1,000th career point in the season opener and now has 1,238. She'll also likely pass the 1,000 rebound mark.
Being on a team that did not win often has hurt, as she has never had a chance to show a State Tournament crowd what she can do.
"I don't think they've ever even won the sectional," Cantrell said.
Cantrell is trying to change that, but inherited just two starters from last season's team. The other one besides Payne, sophomore guard Abbie Buchan, has worked hard to develop into a complement for Payne, and is averaging close to 20 points a game, but is still inexperienced.
Wednesday night against visiting Herbert Hoover, Buchan finished with eight points. Without a true point guard on the roster, Payne, the team's lone senior, often has to bring the ball up court whenever the Greyhounds are pressed.
"Obviously she's a great rebounder, so we almost have to play her inside," Cantrell said. "But she is pretty good outside, too."
An only child, Payne began playing basketball in the fourth grade.
"Mom played in middle school I think and dad played in high school," she said. "They signed me up."
Basketball has been her only sport ever since. She plays all year, joining the Beckley-based WV Team Purpose, coached by Brian Nabors, after the high school season.
"I just love the aggressiveness, the hard work involved, and I love the competition," Payne said. "In all of the other sports, you are just standing around."
There is one sport she would have liked to have played though.
"I'd play football if I could," Payne said. "Quarterback."
On the basketball court, she has worked hard the past year on her ball-handling and shooting, even though she played guard quite a bit when she was younger.
"I used to like playing guard," Payne said, "but now I like playing in the post."
Her strength, size, and jumping ability help her inside.
Her quickness and ball-handling ability make Payne a match-up nightmare for opposing coaches. Usually, like against Herbert Hoover on Wednesday, opponents will put their best defender on her all over the court to try and deny her the ball. Then, whenever she does get a touch, other defenders quickly converge on her.
Payne also had three assists against the Huskies and is willing to share the ball, as she was one of those kids that the coach had to yell at to shoot more in her younger years.
"When I was little (the ball) was like a hot potato," she said. "By the eighth grade, I was shooting more."
Being asked to do so much for their team would cause a great deal of stress and anxiety for many players. All of the pressure to win at Valley definitely falls on the talented Payne's shoulders.
"I feel it just a little bit, not too much," she said. "Especially games like (against Hoover), when it's close."
Multi-tasking seems to come naturally for the teen, as she spends her free time volunteering with the local Hi-Y Youth program, the Robert Jackson Christmas Cheer program that collects toys for needy children, the upper Kanawha Valley food pantry and the First Baptist Church of Kimberely. All the while, she carries a 3.6 grade point average.
If Payne does feel the pressure, it is not showing.
"I think, for what she is going through, she handles it amazingly well," Cantrell said. "She has stepped up and not gotten frustrated and kept her eye on the prize."