YOUNGSTOWN — A college basketball career didn't seem likely for a young Blake Payne trying to find some playing time as a freshman and sophomore at Jefferson High School.
Payne said he didn't have college basketball on his radar untill Westminster men's basketball coach Kevin Siroki saw a game during his senior year of high school and asked him to become a Titan.
"I got more playing time my senior year," Payne said of his role on a team that played very well throughout the year.
Payne is that starting center for Westminster College and has turned into a large presence on the floor, going from a 190-pound senior in high school to a 245 pound man on the court today.
Following Wednesday's game vs. Youngstown State, Payne said he hit the weights hard because,"I knew I had to."
The Titans were a bit overmatched by the Division I Penquins in a 93-67 loss.
Payne scored 10 first-half points for Westminster.
A lopsided score in the early second half led Siroki to clear his bench and Payne did not score again, but he was happy with the experience on a Division I floor.
"It felt good. It was a good test," he said.
Through six games so far this season, Payne is averaging 7.7 points and 4 rebounds per game.
Westminster is gearing up for a run at the Presidents' Athletic Conference championship and a shot to go to the Division III NCAA tournament.
"We were in the (conference) championship game last year," he said.
The Titans lost to Chatham 64-61 in the PAC Tournament championship game.
Last season, Payne averaged seven points and 5.9 rebounds per contest. He led the conference with 76 offensive rebounds.
Payne recorded a season-high 21 points and 10 rebounds for a double-double at Saint Vincent on Jan. 3.
He said his love for the game has grown since his early high school years.
Payne credits Sirkoki, high school coaches Steve French and Jeremy Huber and parents Kimberly and Curtis Payne for his growth as a player.
French said he did not have Payne on his radar as a college player early on in his high school career, but several areas stood out.
"Blake was always such a hard worker," said French, who was selected the county boys basketball coach of the year in the 2016-17 season.
French said Payne did what he was told and listened well.
French added Payne is the only one of his many high school players who has played more than one year of college basketball.
The pair have continued to maintain contact over the years, French said. He said he texted Payne before a recent game and they talk on the phone regularly.
Payne is working on a double major in marketing and business administration and is scheduled to graduate in May.