As the WCC was gearing up for the semifinals of the WCC Tournament in Las Vegas on Monday night, we got some huge news as Evan Payne of Loyola Marymount announced on his Twitter and Instagram that had decided to transfer from the Lions.
Now it’s worth noting that he doesn’t actually say anything about transferring, simply that he had decided to “end my time here at LMU.” But of course, one of the most talented young scorers probably isn’t referring to anything besides taking his talents to a bigger school for a better opportunity at success. Although it’s possible in theory that LMU just didn’t have the major he wanted. But not really.Feb 12, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions guard Evan Payne (1) puts up a shot against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Gary Bell, Jr. (5) during the first half at McCarthey Athletic Center. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
Payne burst onto the scene as a freshman last year. A WCC All-Freshman Team selection, Payne finished 7th in the conference in scoring at 15.5 points per game. That was 2nd best among freshmen behind only Jared Brownridge of Santa Clara. No other freshmen finished in the top 20 in scoring. After a slow regular season for the Lions, Payne was a big part of the Lions’ surprise performance in the WCC Tournament. After winning just two conference games during the regular season, they got the upset over Portland before falling to BYU as Payne averaged 17.5 points per game in Vegas.
With the departure of Anthony Ireland, Payne came into this season ready to assume the role of top option for new coach Mike Dunlap. And he rose to the occasion. He earned All-WCC honors after finishing 3rd in the conference in scoring. However, the Lions once again struggled to a last place finish as Payne got little support. He finished as the only double-digit scorer on the roster as LMU again was not a serious threat to win the WCC or advance to the postseason.
It’s obviously become clear to Payne that success in his final years of college will not come with Loyola Marymount. Based on his posts on social media, Payne nor the program hold ill feelings towards each other. More likely he simply knew that Dunlap’s rebuilding process would make it so that the program would not be turned around before he graduated. So in that regard, it’s understandable why he would look for greener pastures. And Dunlap probably understood this as well and respected Payne’s decision.
One also can’t blame Payne for wanting improve his chances of having a basketball career after college. Almost immediately upon arriving in college, he has proven to be a fantastic scorer. As Sam Vecenie of CBS Sports accurately mentions in his article about this news, Payne could be one of the most sought after transfers on the market this offseason. He has the potential to find a team that gives him a shot at postseason success, one that gives him a bigger stage to show off his skills for a professional career, or maybe both. Those weren’t things he had going for him when he arrived at LMU, but circumstances have changed. Nobody will begrudge him this opportunity, even Lions fans who hate to see him go.
Of course, Payne’s opportunity is also a devastating blow for the Lions. As mentioned, they had little support behind him this season. And they likely were going to lean on him heavily the next two years as well. With him gone, it seems to have started a domino effect of things falling apart. A report has surfaced on Twitter that Dunlap will be releasing two other players from their scholarships, one of which is the young and talented Patson Siame. He was a solid contributor putting up 5.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, and this LMU team that lacks much size will seriously miss what the big 6-11 forward could have become.Feb 12, 2015; Spokane, WA, USA; Loyola Marymount Lions forward Marin Mornar (42) grabs a rebound against Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Domantas Sabonis (11) during the second half at McCarthey Athletic Center. The Bulldogs won 80-51. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
If Siame is gone too, the Lions will have been absolutely gutted. Four of their six top scorers from this year will be gone when you combine the transfers with graduating players, leaving Marin Mornar and David Humphries as the only returning players with any significant game experience. Mornar has really come into own as a quality player, and along with Humphries that’s not a bad foundation. But it still leaves a ton of questions with no immediate answers.
First off, who is going to run the offense? This was an issue all season, and the few guys who did at least a serviceable job like assists leader Chase Flint and Payne will be gone. Matt Hayes and Simon Krajcovic are the most experienced returning guards, but they have not shown much yet. And even worse, Hayes is rumored to be the third player Dunlap is releasing from his scholarship to seek a transfer opportunity. This affects the foundation of Mornar and Humphries because they need someone to get them the ball. It’s the same reason why their numbers were limited this year even with some guard options available. Unless their is a hidden gem in the current crop, finding a quality guard who can distribute the ball is priority number one, even more than trying to replace the lost offense Payne is taking with him.
But that offense is a big issue too. Mornar could turn into a low double-digit scorer with a good guard at his disposal, but there’s not many other returning options that seem like they can provide the offensive boost the Lions need. Even if someone did suddenly evolve into a scorer on the level of Payne, they still need 3-4 guys behind him putting up some numbers in support. If the best case scenario happens and some of the current players evolve into significant contributors, they would still likely be a piece or two away from being competitive.
Dunlap has a big test ahead of him, but it’s exactly why LMU shelled out the big bucks to bring in a former NBA coach. This is now completely his team to control, and he can build it however he wants now that he doesn’t have to worry about fitting guys in around Payne. He was going to face this issue in a couple seasons anyway, so if there’s one silver lining to all this it’s that he gets a jump start on the process.
Payne meanwhile will enjoy some well deserved attention on the recruiting trail. He will get much more attention than he did before signing with Loyola Marymount, and he has earned that with his play the past two seasons. We have been privileged to watch such a talented young scorer grow in front of our eyes, and he will be missed. But it will be fun to watch him take his talents to a bigger program and hopefully find all the success he is searching for.