The comparisons to his dad are inevitable.
Gary Payton II carries the name of his father, an Oregon State great and now a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. Beginning this winter, he’ll also be wearing the uniform of the same school his father attended more than two decades ago.
The younger Payton, or “Little Gary,” as he’s known to his family, arrived on the OSU campus a few days ago to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Gary II picked up the nickname “The Mitten” in recent years, in relation to his dad being called “The Glove” for his success as a defensive stopper during his NBA days. But it’s not one the younger Payton wants to keep.
“He’s a great defender and he needs his own identity,” the elder Payton said while meeting with the media before attending a Beavers home game in January. “When he comes here, I don’t want people to compare him to me. Please don’t. He’s not going to be Gary Payton Sr.”
However, the elder Gary added, his son earned his scholarship on his athletic talent and not his name.
“They’re going to pop up. I’ll address them when they come, but I know it’s going to come,” the younger Payton said of the comparisons in a Thursday interview at Gill Coliseum. “The mitten, it kind of doesn’t fit.”
Adding to the correlations will be the fact that Gary II is a point guard like his father, who was named Sports Illustrated’s college player of the year in 1990 and graced the magazine’s cover.
But unlike Gary Sr., who went to OSU for four years, his son has two years of eligibility left after transferring from Salt Lake Community College in Utah. There, Gary II was named a junior college second team all-American this past season after leading his team to the national tournament’s round of 16.
He averaged 14.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 3.8 assists on a team that went 27-7.
Gary II, now 21, went to Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas before attending Westwind Prep School in Arizona for one year.
It was at Salt Lake that Gary II took on a leadership role in his sophomore season as the oldest player on the team.
“I had a bunch of young guys,” he said. “I had a job to get the young guys in order and make sure they had their heads on right.
“Me taking my prep school and junior route, just because I wasn’t physically and mentally ready to jump into a Division I sport, it is going to help a lot.”
That leadership could come in handy this coming year on a roster with limited playing experience among the returners.
OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said the comparisons between father and son won’t be a problem within the program. Though it may be a challenge for fans to temper their expectations.
“I think he’s confident in what he does. He certainly has the work ethic,” Tinkle said. “If he continues to stay grounded, he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
Former Beavers coach Craig Robinson, who recruited and signed the younger Payton, was fired back in May after six seasons.
But Gary II was strong in his commitment to Oregon State and let Tinkle know as much soon after the new coach was hired.
“I came not for the coaching staff, I came for the school, try and get this program back to where it was,” he said.
Gary Sr. was a senior on the 1990 OSU team, the last to make the NCAA tournament. Only one Beaver squad since (2011-12) has won 20 games.
Gary Payton II is hoping to change that.
About four years ago, Gary Sr. wasn’t high on his son as a basketball player.
Both agreed the typical father-son relationship wasn’t going to allow the elder Payton to coach his son, so he sent him to Darrel Jordan, a Las Vegas-based coach.
The result was an improved player who had better ball-handling and shooting skills to go with his already-solid defensive prowess and jumping ability.
Gary II has also worked on his fundamentals and footwork.
It was some tough love that got the ball rolling.
“I told my son he wasn’t good. He proved me wrong. He got a scholarship and now he’s coming here,” Gary Sr. said in January. “I’m very happy for him to be coming to Oregon State, where I played so he can prove to himself and live in my shoes if he wants to. But I don’t want him to. I want him to be himself.”
He says his son plays like him but is more athletic. The younger Gary’s defense and athleticism will translate well to the Division I level, but he’ll have to make himself a scoring threat, his dad says.
Gary Sr. coaching his son more than occasionally wasn’t going to work, but that’s not to say he doesn’t lend a few words when he feels it’s necessary.
The elder Payton was never short on words as a college or professional player, making sure his opponent got an earful.
“I can definitely ask him when he comes to my game and watches. He definitely lets me know what I can do better, work on, or how to do it right. He’s a lot of help,” Gary II said.
Gary II chose OSU over St. Mary’s, which has built a strong program under head coach Randy Bennett.
Payton said he picked the Beavers because he liked the town, the weather and the friendly people.
His dad told him to make the choice that was going to be best for him.
“I was pretty proud for him to make this decision, but it wasn’t a decision I made him make.I want people to understand that,” Gary Sr. said. “I think he made this decision because he likes Oregon State.”
The younger Payton wants to get his degree in communications and eventually go into broadcasting, like his dad.
But first there’s a playing career at Oregon State, where he has high expectations for himself and his team.
“We just need to get wins and get a chance to compete for the Pac-12 championship and hopefully get to the tournament,” he said.