Florida transfer Omar Payne adds strength, speed to Illinois’ roster

By Brandon Simberg, Staff Writer

A few days after a departure from Illinois’ roster, Brad Underwood and company got some good news, as Florida sophomore center Omar Payne committed to the Illini via the transfer portal. Here’s what Payne can bring to Champaign.


Payne stands at 6-foot-10 with a 230-pound frame that can add some more strength in Adam Fletcher’s weight program. He entered Gainesville, Florida, as a four-star center and No. 45 in the 247Sports rankings. Coincidentally, Payne was ranked one slot higher than the man he may be replacing, Kofi Cockburn. But Payne’s production was nowhere near Cockburn’s, as Florida recruited transfer centers Kerry Blackshear Jr. and Colin Castleton to play over him. As a result, Payne started just 15 of his 54 career games. He’s played reserve minutes, totaling just over 15 per game each season. He scored just under four points per game each season and averages a career 3.4 rebounds.


Payne was seldom used on that end of the court, finishing with a below-average usage rate of 10.8. But with his size and leaping ability, Payne made for a good lob threat. Of his 39 made field goals last year, 26 were dunks. In general, Payne had success at the rim, making 80% of his attempts.

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Like Cockburn, he’s a complete non-shooter. Payne has never attempted a three-pointer and took just five shots outside the paint last season, while he shot just 12-for-21 (57%) at the free-throw stripe. He’s a slightly better passer than Cockburn, but his feel is still pretty elementary, and he’s not someone who will succeed as a facilitator in the short role. Payne is not a player to run the offense through, but more of a complementary piece who can finish at the rim and off the roll.


Payne showed flashes of being a legitimate rim protector. In his limited minutes, he blocked 1.2 shots per game and had an impressive 8.0 block rate. His length and leaping ability allow for him to contest shots in the paint, and he has solid timing. Payne’s strength should allow Illinois to feel comfortable leaving him one-on-one on the block with most bigs. When he commits himself, Payne can have success in drop coverage, and his speed may allow him to hedge pick-and-rolls, but he isn’t very switchy.

For Payne, the biggest thing on that end is his motor. When he’s engaged, he can fly across the court making plays. But in too many Florida games, he went unnoticed and lacked that extra effort. Sustain those flashes for longer periods, and he has the potential to be a high-level defender.

Fit with Illinois

Payne would serve best as back-up and likely be an upgrade over Giorgi Bezhanishvili. But if Cockburn does leave for the NBA and Illinois does not find another center, Payne can be a serviceable starter.

In Brad Underwood’s pick-and-roll-heavy offense and playing alongside a savvy passer like Andre Curbelo, Payne should find himself open for several easy shots and dunks. He likely won’t be an All-Big Ten player like Cockburn, but he can still be a double-double threat, especially if Illinois can channel the flashes that once made him a top-50 recruit.



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