Countdown to 2015–16: Equal parts T-Mac and Batman (read on), Alicia Payne makes Chattanooga go

Payne, in action against Stanford and Tennessee last season. Chattanooga won both games. (Photos courtesy of Chattanooga women’s basketball.)

Alicia Payne is a Batman fan. Not so much the cartoons or comic books — she became captivated by the gritty vision envisioned by Christopher Nolan and put forth up on the silver screen three times this past decade. “He’s really cool,” Payne says of the Caped Crusader.

On the basketball side of things, she references Tracy McGrady. It’s why Payne, a 5–9 senior, wears No. 1 for the Chattanooga women’s basketball team. Payne was still young when T-Mac was in his prime for the Magic and Rockets, but she loved his demeanor. The way he could take over a game (YouTube search: Rockets-Spurs, Dec. 9, 2004) like it was nothing more than shifting gears into sensational scoring overdrive. “He was always that rock for his team,” Payne says. “I really liked that about him.”

Here’s the fun thing about heroes. Real or fictional, the way they impact you is very real. You watch them and incorporate their best qualities into your own game. That’s what Payne did with McGrady. She’s never been too much of a scorer, but she did excel on defense and facilitating offense. T-Mac took over with points; with Payne, it was doing things that might go unnoticed. Not turning the ball over. Getting a big stop. “Making big plays. I like to do that for my team,” Payne says.

Back to Batman. Payne has always considered herself quiet — not so much a brooder like Bruce Wayne, but completely comfortable going about her business without a tide of adulation coming her way. This past season, her 2.39 assist-to-turnover ranked 19th in DI. She was named the Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, yet she was left off the all-conference teams. She might as well have been wearing a disguise of concealment for UTC, which has finished 29–4 (!) in each of the past three seasons.

Head coach Jim Foster and the rest of the Mocs know the vital importance she plays for this very, very talented team. Payne is the lone senior on the Mocs’ ‘15–16 roster, and when she spoke with Foster this past spring, he encouraged his point guard to work on her shooting. (Payne hit 41% of her FG, and 26% of her threes, last season.) He wants her to be more of a threat, so defenses can’t sag off and hug the other scoring options.

Payne points to these discussions as being instrumental in her growth. Since Foster took over the Mocs program, in 2013, he has worked with each player, breaking down individual components and showing them that by mastering those, they thereby make the team that much better.

“I can play defense, I can distribute, but I want to take this team past the first round of the NCAA tournament,” says Payne. “That doesn’t mean scoring 20 points a game, but it does mean knocking down open shots. Coach Foster told me that in order for this team to go to the next level, I’m going to have to make defenders guard me.”

Payne knows she’ll have to speak up, too. Her standing as a leader requires it. “It won’t kill me to raise my voice every once in a while,” she says with a chuckle. “So, I step out of my comfort zone. It tell myself that it’s what this team needs.”

Says Foster, when asked about Payne’s quiet nature, “She is misdiagnosing herself. In some respects, she is an introvert, but she’s also probably the funniest person on the team. In some cases, she’s actually quite the extrovert.”

A little bit of the Beale Street coming out. (Courtesy of UTC women’s basketball)

Foster relays stories of Payne bursting into characters drawn from fabled Beale Street, in her hometown of Memphis, Tenn. There’s a certain walk and attitude, and Payne nails it. Relentless and competitive, with the perfect dash of zany. Recipe for success on lock. “She pulls it out at the appropriate times,” says Foster of this Beale Street alter ego. “It’s always good for a laugh.”

Despite the all-conference snub, Foster nominates Payne as the Mocs’ hardest worker, on and off the court. (She is a Dean’s List scholar.) Not that individual awards matter much. “If Red (Payne’s nickname ever since she can remember) had a choice of getting all those accolades and attributes, or being on the conference regular season and tournament championship teams,” Foster begins…

Well, you know full well which one Red would pick.

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops

Game of life, with a twist—and shout. Twitter: @alleywhoops