Ex-Mississippi Valley State men’s basketball coach Andre Payne refuted claims by a former player that he engaged in verbal abuse.
Speaking with an HBCU Sports reporter late Monday night, Payne — the head coach at MVSU for five seasons — said allegations made by then-Delta Devils guard Patrick Rucker were far from the truth.
A key tenant of Payne’s contention regarded suggestions that he mistreated Rucker because he was a walk-on player who was not wanted on the roster.
Payne explained that could not have been the case considering Rucker played in every game during the 2018-19 season and was inserted in the starting lineup for 12 contests.
“As a walk-on, if I as a coach choose to not accept that player or cut that player, I can do that at any point because that’s not a scholarship player,” said Payne. … “If he’s a walk-on and I chose to keep him on the team and he played an entire year for me, that has to say something that I liked Patrick as a player and respected his game and him as a young man.”
Payne, who has been a basketball coach for more than 20 years, said Rucker should have had no reason to be disgruntled or concerned about how he was treated taking into account that as the season went on Rucker was afforded increased opportunities to start over veteran players.
Payne went on to describe his relationship with Rucker as “great.”
It was a relationship, said Payne, that begin prior to that season when a relative of Rucker’s — an MVSU alum — reached out to the coach requesting whether the junior college transfer could get a shot at making the team.
Payne said he agreed to have Rucker tryout as a walk-on and later vetted Rucker through a coach at his previous school.
During workout sessions, Payne said Rucker had shown up late. In response to that, Payne said he instructed Rucker to perform conditioning with a medicine ball — something that was often required of players as a form of punishment.
Payne, however, denied the activity amounted to any sort of abuse.
“That is not abusive,” he said. “If you’ve been around athletics, that is not abusive.”
The veteran head coach later said it was he who vouched for Rucker to remain on the roster when assistants wanted him off after he struggled to show up on time for 6 a.m. workouts.
In the midst of the 2018-19 season, Payne said he decided to start Rucker on the road at Illinois on the belief that he earned the shot and would perform well in front of his family in his home state.
“You tell me if that is abusing a player,” said Payne. “You’re starting a man against a Power 5 Division I school. You’re doing it because he deserved to play.”
To go further in countering the claims that he mistreated Rucker or any other player while at Mississippi Valley State, Payne shared text exchanges between the two with HBCU Sports of how he encouraged the young player.
In a text dated Jan. 15, 2019, Payne wrote to Rucker: “You or one other person I am considering will start at the PG spot this Saturday. I need for you to work your tail off this week.”
Another, dated Feb. 19 of that same year read: “Hey man your playing well but you got to stop cursing on the court and talking trash before it cost us at (a) crucial time. Talk to your teammates but not the opponents but keep working hard.”
Months earlier in a text, Rucker asked Payne about playing time writing, “Hey coach what do you mean about I’m getting the keys.” Payne responded by saying, “Your opportunity to start. Don’t blow it.”
Payne indicated the messages, combined with the opportunities Rucker was given on the floor, presented a normal, healthy coach-player connection — not the menacing one alleged.
When asked why he thought Rucker made these claims against him, Payne suggested that it was a case of young people wanting “to get a few minutes of fame.”
“I just don’t know why,” said Payne, who mentioned that he would have likely offered Rucker a scholarship if he remained coach at Mississippi Valley State. “He played for me. He started as a walk-on. You don’t keep around a walk-on you don’t want.”
Payne, who is currently the head coach at Denmark Technical College, an HBCU in South Carolina, said during his more than two decades as a coach that he had never been made aware of any claims of misconduct from players.
“I’ve never had a player accuse me of being abusive,” he said. “I was raised a good person, and I believe in treating folks right and treating folks how the good Lord would want you to treat them.
“I would never talk to someone’s son or daughter any type of way. That’s not how you get players to react. You talk to them with respect. I believe in giving them guidance.”