BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington High School junior basketball star Chris Payton has decided to stay home, announcing Thursday he has orally committed to Illinois State.
The 6-foot-6 forward chose the Redbirds after also receiving scholarship offers from Illinois, Bradley and Saint Louis. He was a first-team Pantagraph All-Area selection last year when he averaged 12.4 points, 8.7 rebounds, shot 51 percent from the field and blocked 85 shots.
Payton was particularly impressive in the Class 3A State Tournament, helping BHS take third place by averaging 17.5 points and 13.5 rebounds in his two state tourney games.
“They showed a lot of loyalty. The players made me feel like I was at home and the coaches were in constant communication with me,” Payton said of Illinois State. “No one really persuaded me (to stay in Bloomington-Normal). I just enjoy the town. I love everything about it.”
ISU was the first to offer Payton a scholarship in the midst of BHS’ record-setting 28-5 season.
“At first it wasn’t like, ‘Oh, I know I’m going there.’ It was like, ‘Dang, I’m getting my college paid for if I stay on the right track,’” Payton said. “It (the offer) stayed on my mind for a while. Then this summer they were at every single one of my games, no matter where it was.”
ISU’s chances of landing Payton were enhanced by the Redbirds’ 28-7 season in which they shared the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title with a 17-1 record.
“That was something that caught my attention,” he said. “It was a phenomenal season.
“I think when I get there a lot of the (current) players will be leaving. Obviously I would like to play with those guys. Those are the guys who have showed me a lot of love the last few months. But to think I can help keep the tradition going for them means a lot to me.”
Payton is among four returning starters at BHS, which moves up to Class 4A this season. He looks forward to being able to focus on academics and improving on the court.
“It makes a lot of sense,” he said. “I can improve my game to where they’re going to need it to be once I get there. I want to expand my game … make better decisions and turn the ball over a little less.”
Payton called Redbirds head coach Dan Muller “a person who made me feel welcome,” adding, “He definitely made a presence with me. He keeps everything together.”
BHS coach Micheal Mosley plans to continue to push Payton, saying, “We’re always going to challenge him to get better.”
“Chris is big on relationships and they (ISU’s coaches) have been really, really committed to establishing a relationship with him," Mosley said.
“I think it’s a comfort thing for him. He knows the fans here support him and the players here connected with him. It’s great for us. It’s been a while since Illinois State has recruited our players. I think Brandon Holtz was the last one to play there (2005-2009). We’re excited for our program and his teammates are real excited for him.”
NCAA rules prohibit Muller from commenting on recruits until they sign a national letter of intent. Payton will be able to sign in November 2018.
There are no seniors on ISU's current roster, but the Redbirds will have six juniors this season.