Aug. 9, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. – In a week that included two former Aggies signing their first-ever professional basketball contracts, Mark Payne, another UC Davis men’s basketball alum, will continue his career this season with French club team Champagne Châlons-Reims Basket.
Châlons-Reims is one of 18 teams that compete in France’s League Nationale de Basket Pro B.
Payne and his new teammates are currently preparing for a busy week of games at the Summer of Thunder – a three-week basketball event hosted by the Bahamas Basketball Federation. Taking place throughout the month of August are games involving 14 U.S. universities, 11 club teams from the Bahamas and two national teams.
Châlons-Reims, the lone international professional team invited by the BBF, will face the Kentucky Wildcats on Aug. 11 and 16, with a game against the Dominican Republic slated for Aug. 13.
The Dominican Republic is currently ranked No. 26 in the FIBA World Rankings and will use its week on the islands to prepare for the 2014 Basketball World Cup.
Once its exhibition schedule concludes, Châlons-Reims will head home to prepare for its Aug. 23 home contest against fellow French club Gravelines Dunkerque.
Payne joined Châlons-Reims after enjoying his most successful season abroad. Last year, the 6-foot-8 swingman averaged 10.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game for Greek club PAOK Thessaloniki.
PAOK Thessaloniki was the second Greek club in as many years to add Payne to its roster as the Stockton, California, native donned Panionios BC Athens’ jersey for the 2012-13 season.
The No. 6 all-time leading scorer in UC Davis’ history (1,382 pts.) drew Châlons-Reims’ attention after posting impressive numbers across the board with PAOK. Once he signed a contract with his new team, Paine, dubbed the “Swiss Army Knife” by his new team, and his wife were ready to continue their European basketball adventure in another country.
“I had a great experience during my two years in Greece. It is an amazing country with amazing people. We made life long friendships while we were there.
“I decided to move to France, from Greece, as a nice progression in my career. I performed well last year and had a few offers to choose from. I decided to take the French offer because the league is competitive from top to bottom compared to the Greek league,” added Payne.
Once Payne and his wife relocated to Champagne, located in the northeast part of France, the former Aggie quickly noticed other differences between his current and former homes.
“In France, there are about 15 quality teams with healthy budgets. In Greece, there are really only four teams in that situation. The state of France’s economy was another positive reason why I switched teams. Compared to Greece, the laws are regulated on a more consistent basis and the economy is more stable.”
Payne’s versatility will enable Châlons-Reims to slot him as its primary shooting guard or small forward. Regardless of position, Payne is ready to use his experience with other professional European teams to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates.
“The players in Europe are typically more skilled and less athletic than players from the U.S. For the most part, the games are very structured, relatively slow and methodical. Rarely do you see teams that press or employ trapping defenses,” said Payne.
“My game has expanded the most on defense. I have become a very reliable defender in the last few years, especially when other teams run pick and rolls.”
Even though the style of play employed by European teams, regardless of location, varies minimally from one country to the next, Payne and his wife were given a minimal amount of time to adjust, adapt and tackle another unique set of challenges off the court.
“I quickly learned that most French people possess a limited knowledge of English. To help with the adjustment [from Greece to France] my wife and I are taking French lessons to make the transition easier,” explained Payne.
“This is also the first year that my team did not provide a car with an automatic transmission; learning how to drive a car with a stick shift is another new experience for both of us.”