ST. CHARLES – Quinten Payne plays a dynamite game, then hops out of bed the next morning ready to work on his game.
Quinten Payne misses two free throws with the game on the line, and attacks his next workouts exactly the same, with no time for self-pity.
Through the highs and the lows, the St. Charles North senior never wavers from his almost preternatural, daily focus on becoming an elite basketball player.
As a senior, Payne reaped the fruits of his steadfast years of devotion, closing his three-year run with the North Stars in top form and earning Kane County Chronicle Boys Basketball Player of the Year honors.
Even as part of an immediate family that has produced five Division I college basketball players – two parents, three children – Payne's dedication to basketball greatness stands out.
North Stars coach Tom Poulin had a hard time likening Payne's ambition to other athletes he's been around, settling on his sister Anne Poulin's zealotry for soccer – she was a key cog in St. Charles High School's girls soccer dynasty – as a workable comparison.
"I think Quinten's along those same lines," Poulin said. "He just loves basketball completely, loves every aspect of it – preparing for it, watching film, training individually, training as a team. He wakes up and his schedule is full, and he loves that."
Poulin's occasional admonitions for Payne to take a day off to recharge mostly went unheeded.
The hyper-active, high-rising 6-foot-4 guard has seen his share of adversity at North to further stoke his competitive blaze.
From the moment he transferred to North after a state tournament berth with his Florida school as a high school freshman, Payne was the center of attention for the North Stars. His own early success and his family's well-known basketball name ensured he'd be a lightning rod for every student section throughout Chicagoland.
The family hoops tree goes like this: Father Kent Payne, the athletic director at Elgin Community College, played collegiately at Southern Illinois. Mother Sherry played college ball at DePaul.
Payne's older brother, Cully, is perhaps most responsible for the Payne name resonating so clearly. He committed to play at DePaul as an eighth-grader, and several transfers – both in high school and college – ultimately led Cully to Loyola, where his college hoops career will overlap with Quinten for at least one season next year. Middle sister Kaitlyn Payne is playing at Eastern Illinois.
At the time unaware of his parents' basketball prowess, Payne recalls arguing with a fellow elementary school student who cited his mother's playing pedigree. He said his parents have made a point to focus on the current generation's exploits rather than their glory days.
"I thought that was really what kind of what keeps me humble, my brother and sister humble, is they don't talk about their college days or anything like that," Payne said. "They want us to grow up and have our own thing.
"They just let us go and do our thing and have fun with it, and then they gave us every resource that we need – if we need a skills guy, if we needed to go shoot they'd go rebound, if we needed somebody to lift with us. They would do whatever it took to get us to the level, and I don't think a lot of parents have that, where they'd give everything it took out of their time."
Even as Payne swiftly emerged as an impact player for the North Stars as a sophomore and junior, expectations were set so high that his successes were perhaps unfairly overshadowed by the occasional high-turnover game or cold night from the perimeter. It didn't help that, as a team, the North Stars hovered around the .500 mark, despite sharing for a conference title last season.
Through it all – every last "Overrated" or "Cully's better" chant from an opposing student section – Payne showed thick skin and resolve. He kept knifing into the lane. Kept refining that 3-point shot. Kept getting better.
"I wish I had more of his disposition of being able to digest things a little better and take things in and process it," Kent Payne said. "I think he's an unbelievable processor of keeping things in proper perspective. I think it's a great gift he has. My wife Sherry says he has a terrific balance to himself, from playing the game to training to academics to life. He just has a terrific balance, a very mature balance, and as the dad of a senior in high school, that's a really cool feeling. It makes up for some of my immatureness."
As a senior, Payne was the top scorer in the Tri-Cities, averaging 19.8 points. He was also North's second leading rebounder and his uncommonly explosive drives made him a regular at the foul line, where he shot 74 percent.
Many of his best performances came in marquee games. He sparkled as North went 3-1 at the prestigious Pontiac Holiday Tournament, and Payne played some of his best basketball in his final games as a North Star.
Poulin recalled Payne looking him "dead in the eye" a few weeks before North faced archival St. Charles East in regionals – the teams' fourth meeting of the season, with East taking two of the first three – and promised not to let the North Stars lose the game.
He backed that up with a 26-point outburst in North's 69-53 victory, and then poured in 28 points in a losing cause against Larkin in the Class 4A South Elgin Regional title game.
The tight-knit North Stars went 18-11 on the season – the best record during Payne's three seasons – but Poulin said "it will bother me for a long time" that Payne never had a chance to play deep into the state tournament at North.
It irks Payne, too, but he's never had the time to wallow.
"There's no way I can go back in time and change anything so I don't really have any regrets this year," Payne said. "Yes, I would have loved to hit the shot against Waukegan, made the free throws against East to beat them [during the regular season], but those are things that helped my game, made me work on my free throws, made me work on tough jumpers, things like that.
"I would have loved to win a regional championship, win sectionals, go downstate, all those different things, but if they were meant to be, they would have happened. … I think all of the things that have happened over the last three years have built me to where I need to be, and have set me up for success in college and after college."
Payne's relocation to the north side of Chicago shouldn't be too anxiety-laden. Since moving from St. Charles after fourth grade, Payne has lived in Burlington, Schaumburg and Florida before a return to St. Charles that he relished three years ago.
How come? Basketball, of course.
"Basketball down there, it's not the same as up here," Payne said. "When you get to regional games [in Illinois], it's always sold out, it's packed, big crowds. Down there, it's not the same. Football is more their main thing down there."
Maybe it was the transient nature of Cully's career that fueled a whopper of a rumor last summer that Payne would be transferring for his senior year, perhaps to St. Charles East.
Payne's phone blew up for a few days as the rumor swirled, but he laughed it off, saying there never was any validity.
"I wasn't going anywhere," Payne said. "Coach Poulin knew that. That's why everyone was calling me, 'Hey, are you really doing this?' and he never called me, never asked. He knew I was staying. He knew I was going to finish up my senior year with him."
Poulin feels so strongly about Payne as a person and a player that he said North's No. 12 jersey – worn previously by former North Star great Jonathan DeMoss and now Payne – will not be recirculated until a deeply deserving up-and-comer emerges.
Never one to make life easy on himself, Payne plans to double major in accounting and finance at Loyola. Remarkably, he'll be teaming up with his older brother for the first time when they both wear Ramblers jerseys in the winter.
"I know he's going to get on me harder than anybody else, which is what I need," Payne said. "I think that's going to make me a lot better of a player."
For Payne, that's always the idea.