Michigan State Spartans forward Adreian Payne (5) dunks over Duke Blue Devils guard Rasheed Sulaimon (14) in the second half during the semifinals of the Midwest regional of the 2013 NCAA tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium.(Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports)
East Lansing (DETROIT FREE PRESS) - For Michigan State, the wait was worth it, and the Payne may be worth a national championship.
Adreian Payne, the supremely gifted 6-foot-10 forward who spent the past month agonizing about whether to return for his senior season at MSU or make the jump to the NBA, announced tonight his decision to stay in school, confirming previous Yahoo! Sports and CBS Sports reports that cited anonymous sources.
"I'm gonna stay my senior year and try to get us to a championship," Payne said at a Sunday evening press conference, a few hours before the midnight deadline for underclassmen to declare. "That's the most important thing. ... It was a hard decision."
Payne, who averaged 10.5 points and a team-high 7.6 rebounds for MSU as a junior, was considered a borderline first-round pick. But this is considered a weak draft, one of many factors in a decision that clearly weighed on Payne.
Over the weekend, he tweeted about missing his grandmother, Mary Lewis, who raised him in Dayton, Ohio and passed away in 2011, and also about taking refuge in the gym. Rumors of a decision to leave swirled, but as of Sunday afternoon it appeared Izzo would be commanding one of his most talented teams in 2013-14.
Payne's return means MSU has half of the frontcourt that did much to propel it to a 27-9 season in 2012-13, including a second-place finish in the Big Ten and an advance to the Sweet 16. MSU's lone senior this season was center Derrick Nix, who formed a potent inside-outside combo with Payne.
Freshman guard Gary Harris announced earlier this month that he would return for his sophomore season, even though ESPN draft analyst Chad Ford projected Harris as a high first-round pick for the last half of his first season with the Spartans.
They'll be joined by senior point guard Keith Appling, junior forward Branden Dawson and a supporting cast that includes Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Matt Costello, Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd. MSU also brings in big man Gavin Schilling and guard Alvin Ellis III.
Assuming health and improvement over the summer, next season's team will have some of the highest expectations of Izzo's tenure. MSU has been a consensus top-5 pick among analysts who assumed a Payne return, and after the reports emerged Sunday, ESPN's Dick Vitale tweeted his top two - No. 1 Kentucky and No. 2 MSU.
The Wildcats are the consensus top team even though they are coming off an NIT appearance, because they're bringing in what is considered one of the strongest recruiting classes in history. MSU and Kentucky will play Nov. 12 in the Champions Classic in Chicago.
So far in Izzo's tenure at MSU, every four-year player who fulfilled his eligibility has been to at least one Final Four. That recruiting pitch will be at stake next season, when Appling and Payne are seniors.
The last MSU senior to face that scenario was Travis Walton in 2008-09, and he was the emotional leader who helped the Spartans get all the way to the NCAA title game at Detroit's Ford Field.
Contact Joe Rexrode: 313-222-2625 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @joerexrode. Check out his MSU blog atfreep.com/heyjoe.