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After 24 years, three NCAA Tournament appearances, two Coach of the Year honors and two Peach Belt Conference championships, Payne has taken another challenging step in his coaching career, having led Upstate into NCAA Division I competition in 2007-08. Upstate is now in its third year in DI and the Atlantic Sun Conference.
Payne has coached at all levels and divisions of college basketball, beginning his head coaching career on the junior college level and moving through the ranks in the NAIA and NCAA Division I, II and III. He is the only current DI head coach to have coached at all five levels of college basketball and has compiled a 369-331 record.
Under his guidance, the 2008-09 Spartans made tremendous strides over the 2007-08 season while playing another demanding schedule. Upstate played the nation's 29th-toughest non-conference schedule according to Ken Pomeroy, yet improved its overall and A-Sun win totals. The Spartans won nine games last year, an improvement of two wins over the previous year, while winning three more conference games than in 2007-08. He also fostered the development of Bobby Davis who broke Upstate's career rebounding average and became the first Spartan to receive All-ASun honors. Davis is set to travel overseas to continue his basketball career as a professional and will become one of seven players Payne has coached to go on to play professional basketball.
Payne led Upstate into the DI Era when the Spartans took the floor at Utah on Nov. 9, 2007. Upstate traveled more than 20,000 miles roundtrip from Spartanburg to play its 30-game schedule last year. The Spartans played games in eight states and five time zones, including Alaska, as Payne and the men's basketball program spread the USC Upstate name across the nation.
Payne's Spartans won their first game against a DI opponent on Dec. 18, 2007, a 58-56 victory at SMU in Dallas, Texas. Upstate played its first contest on regional ESPN television when the Spartans traveled to Iowa State on Jan. 2. Following the Iowa State game, Upstate's schedule was ranked as the 18th-toughest in the country.
Payne returned the USC Upstate men's basketball program to national prominence on the NCAA Division II level, leading the Spartans to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA DII Tournament in 2004-05 and 2005-06. His Spartan teams won two straight league championships in the Peach Belt Conference, claiming a share of the regular season championship with Kennesaw State in 2004-05 and winning the conference tournament title for the first time in school history in 2005-06.
Payne's 2006-07 team finished with a 17-11 record, the fourth winning record and fifth non-losing mark in five seasons with the Spartans. In 2005-06, he led Upstate to a 20-10 record and the program's first-ever Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship. The Spartans advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year and maintained a Top 25 national ranking early in the season.
Payne had a monumental year in 2004-05, returning Upstate to the top of the Peach Belt by winning the North Division title and claiming a share of the Peach Belt Championship with South Division foe Kennesaw State. The Spartans jumped into the NABC/NCAA Division II Top 25 at No. 15 on Jan. 25, 2005, and moved as high as No. 8 during the season. Upstate settled for a final No. 25 national ranking. He also led the Spartans into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, advancing to the second round before losing to eventual national champion Virginia Union. On a personal note, Payne reached 300 career wins in his 20th year of coaching, earned Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year honors and was named South Atlantic Region Coach of the Year.
In his first year as head coach of the Spartans in 2002-03, Payne restored USC Upstate to the level of success it has been accustomed to since the early 1980s. The 2002-03 Spartans recorded an 18-11 record, finished second in the North Division of the Peach Belt Conference, and advanced to the semifinals of the league tournament. In 2003-04, Payne led the Spartans to a third place finish in the North Division and claimed 14 wins on the season.
Payne came to USC Upstate after serving as the head men's basketball coach and assistant athletic director at Greensboro College for two years.
Prior to that his stint at Greensboro College, Payne served at the helm of the Oregon State program from 1995-2000. Among his victories were wins over Stanford (No. 15 in 1996-97 and No. 6 in 1998-99), UCLA (No. 8 in 1998-99) and Arizona (No. 9 in 1998-99 and No. 3 in 1999-2000). Payne also coached four Pac-10 All-Freshman team members, including Corey Benjamin. He also coached three Pac-10 All-Newcomer and three Pac-10 All-Academic honorees. He recruited and coached Deaundra Tanner, who finished as the eighth-leading scorer in school history.
Before his stint at Oregon State, Payne was the head coach at East Carolina from 1991-95. He led the Pirates to 56 wins in his four years at the school and won the program's only Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship in 1993. His 1994-95 squad went 18-11 and his teams won 33 games in the final two seasons he was the head coach of the Pirates. ECU defeated James Madison in the conference championship game to advance to the NCAA Tournament in 1993. ECU was pitted against North Carolina in the first round of the tournament, and was eliminated by the eventual national champions. He coached five CAA All-Rookie and two All-Conference selections at ECU.
Payne began his head coaching career at Truett-McConnell College in Georgia, leading the junior college program to a 25-5 record in his only season at the helm of the program in 1978-79.
Payne became the head coach at Belmont Abbey in 1981 and remained at the head of the program for five years, leaving the position after the 1986 season. He tallied a 103-51 record the Abbey.
In addition to his stints as a head coach, Payne has also served as an assistant coach at three NCAA Division I programs. He was on the sidelines at Clemson from 1975-78 as an assistant during the Tree Rollins era. From 1979-81, he was an assistant at East Carolina where he made such an impression on the athletic administration that he was hired as the head coach of the program 10 years after his departure for Belmont Abbey.
Payne also served on the coaching staff of George Felton at South Carolina from 1986-91. The Gamecocks tallied an 87-62 record during Payne's stint at the school. South Carolina advanced to the NCAA East Regional in 1989 and the postseason NIT in 1991. Payne coached six All-Metro Conference selections during his tenure, including standouts Jo Jo English and John Hudson.
Payne graduated from Wake Forest with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications in 1973. He was a member of the Demon Deacon basketball team from 1970-73. He received the school's prestigious Arnold Palmer Award as the Outstanding Student-Athlete in 1973. Twenty-five years later his son, Luke, earned similar honors at USC Upstate as the school's Student-Athlete of the Year. In addition to the Arnold Palmer Award, he was named the team Most Valuable Player as a senior in 1973. Upon graduation, he continued his playing career professionally in France from 1973-74, leading Domene as it advanced to the D-1 level in France. He earned a Master of Education degree from Clemson in 1978 while serving as an assistant coach. He graduated from East Mecklenburg High School and was an All-State selection in basketball.
Payne and his wife, Ann, have a son, Luke, who graduated from Upstate in May and was a standout on the men's basketball team, finishing his career ranked ninth all-time in scoring with 1,381 points. Mrs. Payne is a former women's head coach at Alabama, Charlotte, Belmont Abbey and Berry College.
Eddie Payne Coaching Career
Belmont Abbey College
East Carolina University
Oregon State University