Washington's Payne Returns to Her Home State

Nov. 15, 2001

AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE - Loree Payne might be in Washington, but there are times shefeels like she's playing for Montana.

She smiles thinking about children bouncing basketballs in her hometown ofHavre, and - who knows - perhaps even as far away as Billings or Butte. Theylook up to her for making it big out of a small town.

'Basketball was my hometown,' she said. 'It's a tight-knit community.There's unity.'

Payne returns to Montana on Friday with the Washington women's basketballteam, which is ranked No. 19 in the Associated Press preseason poll. TheHuskies open their season against Montana State in Bozeman.

Payne, a junior guard and captain, is the top returning scorer forWashington, which hopes to continue the momentum from last season's run tothe NCAA tournament final eight.

'This year, being a junior and one of the oldest players on the team, Idefinitely have a role to step up,' Payne said. 'Leadership is a naturalrole for me. I like being in situations where people look to me to direct.I'm ready for that.'

She is proud to represent the Big Sky country in the Pac-10.

In Havre, an agriculture and railroad town of about 11,000 people in therolling plains of north central Montana, 'you know most people,' Payne said.

'The whole state followed Loree,' Washington coach June Daugherty said.

It was tough for Payne to leave. And it was even harder on those who coachedher and watched her. The University of Montana, after all, is accustomed tosigning the top players in the state. But Payne wanted to see someplace new.

And with her help, it seems Washington is building a Montana connection.

Payne says it all goes back to Karen Deden, a Husky star in the late 1980sand early '90s from Missoula's Sentinel High. She led Washington to thePac-10 title in the '89-90 season, and was inducted into the university'ssports Hall of Fame last year.

Deden finished playing for the Huskies just a few months before Payne turned10.

Payne is Washington's first player from Montana since Deden. A year afterPayne arrived, Andrea Lalum showed up. Lalum is from the tiny town ofJoplin, a farming community of about 300 near the Canadian border innorthern Montana. She transferred to Bozeman in her junior year of highschool when her parents took new jobs.

Payne and the No. 19 Huskies hope to continue the momentum from last season's run to the NCAA tournament final eight.

Perhaps, Daugherty says, the Huskies can compete each year for some of thestate's best.

'Montana has been very good to Washington,' Daugherty said. 'We have beenfortunate to have Andrea and Loree. They're from small towns and they'rereally making big news in the big city of Seattle.'

Last season as a sophomore, the 6-foot Payne hit the game-winning shot asthe Huskies surprised Old Dominion in the first round of the NCAAtournament. Washington's postseason run ended in the final eight, with aloss to Jackie Stiles and Southwest Missouri State.

Payne averaged 11.4 points and 2.3 rebounds last season, and everybodysurrounding the Washington program is expecting more.

Her offseason work is showing already, Daugherty said. She has improved hershooting and defense and Daugherty says she is ready for the more up-tempostyle the Huskies plan to play.

Away from the game, everyone has a nice word to say about Payne.

'She has a great spirit about her,' Daugherty said. 'She's warm-hearted andgenuinely cares about people. On court, she's different. She's tough asnails and wants to take the last shot. If it's a 3-pointer, it's all thebetter. She's one of those who wants to be counted on.'

On Friday, Payne's high school coach, Dennis Murphy, will leave Havre aroundnoon for the 300-mile drive to Bozeman to see her play.

Payne was a four-year starter at Havre, playing in the state tournament herfreshman year at age 14. Her older sister, Sheri, got in trouble before hersenior year and their parents only allowed Sheri to leave when Loree waswith her, Murphy said.

So they would always play basketball anywhere they could find a hoop. LoreePayne must have been a fifth- or sixth-grader back then, Murphy said. Heknew then she would be a special player in his program.

'She was pretty well liked here,' Murphy said. 'The thing about Loree, sheis one of the most humble, sensitive, caring individuals I was ever around.She had every reason in high school to have a big head. She kept bringing inawards after awards.'

She still keeps close track of Murphy's teams.

Payne's message to Montana: 'I want to let everyone know I haven't forgottenabout them.'

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