Smart, Payton share mutual respect

Smart, Payton share mutual respect
July 8, 2014, 6:30 pm
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ORLANDO, Fla. — As last month's NBA draft drew near, there was no escaping the buzz created by Lousiana-Lafayette sensation Elfrid Payton.

Every year there's a college player who shoots up the draft board.

This year, Elfrid Payton was that dude.

But the 6-foot-3 point guard's ascension meant other point guards rated ahead of him were sliding, which is why most did not want to attend the same workouts at the same time he was there.

That is, except for Boston's Marcus Smart.

In his short time with the Celtics, Smart has been emphatic in telling anyone within earshot that he is up and ready to compete against anyone, anywhere and at anytime.

Payton, projected as a late first-round pick who parlayed strong workouts into Orlando taking him with the 12th overall pick, knows this better than most.

"He wants to win as bad as me," Payton said of Smart. "That just makes for great workouts. He's a great guy. I love playing with him and against him. He's a great competitor."

There are other competitors that were selected in this year's draft, but none of them were willing to showcase their talent against Payton.

"I'm not gonna blame those guys," Payton said after Orlando's 80-73 summer league loss to Memphis on Tuesday. "It's the agents. But he (Smart) is one of the guys that stepped up to the challenge. I didn't expect nothing else from him.

The two struck up a friendship when they played in the FIBA under-19 World Championships which ended with Team USA winning a gold medal in Prague last summer.

Smart was one of the stars of the team who was also expected to be one of the leaders.

Payton was a last-minute invitee after his head coach at Louisiana-Lafayette Bob Marlin pushed for his inclusion.

It didn't take long for Payton's play - not his coaches pleading - to endear him to the Team USA coaching staff.

"His quickness, length and feel for the game have been impressive," USA assistant coach (and head coach of Virginia Commonwealth University) Shaka Smart told ESPN.com. "After seeing him the first session, I'm not surprised he made the team."

Even now that they are in the NBA, it's clear that the Team USA experience was impactful for both of them.

When asked about his Team USA experience and who gave him the biggest challenge, Smart didn't hesitate in mentioning Payton.

"I grew a lot with him," Smart said. "Great player, just a great kid, somebody that works hard and definitely his effort on the court is unbelievable. He challenged me everyday and I challenged him. Us being the two guards on the team, we stepped up to the leadership role a lot."

Payton says their bond stems from a mutual respect mixed with a never-ending desire to be the best.

"He's just as competitive as me," Payton said. "He feels like he's the best and is going to try and show it. That's the same for me. I feel I'm the best and I'm going to try and show it."