College basketball: Corbin, Payton II share NBA-based bond at SLCC
In the empty Bruin Arena, a Salt Lake Community College men's basketball player walks across the court with his head down but with a smooth swagger. Next to him is a teammate, perhaps the only person on campus who truly grasps what his life has been like.
Their names give away the significance of their identities. On the left, with the confident stride, is freshman Gary Payton II, son of NBA legend Gary Payton. Alongside him is sophomore Tyrell Corbin, whose father, Tyrone Corbin, is the coach of the Utah Jazz.
Payton II and Corbin, both in their first seasons with the SLCC basketball team, understand each other. They know the benefits of growing up in an NBA environment, and they're aware of the difficulties of living in the shadows of famous fathers. It didn't take them long to form a rare bond.
"We relate on a different level than some of the other guys," Corbin said. "We've had similar experiences being around the NBA, and our dads have been gone. It's a weird relationship we have, but it's been fun."
Having seen their fathers accomplish so much in the NBA, playing junior college basketball isn't the final goal for either Payton II or Corbin. Both say they are pleased to be with the Bruins, one of the top junior college programs in the West, but they hope their time here is a steppingstone to bigger and better things.
Still, there is the nagging sense that no matter how far they go in their basketball careers, no matter how high they rise, they will be unable to shake the expectations that accompany their last names.
"A lot of people expect you to live up to what he's done and be like him," Payton II said. "But some people don't understand that I'm my own person. I'm going to make my own path, wherever I've got to go."
Corbin, a 6-foot guard who graduated from West High, began his collegiate career at UC Davis. But he wanted a change after one season with the Aggies. Rather than transferring to another Division I program, which would force him to sit out a year, he came to the Bruins so he can be recruited again following this season.
Payton II, a 6-3 guard, transferred to West Wind Prep (Ariz.) for his final season of high school to try to elevate his play to a Division I level. But his game still wasn't where he wanted it, so he committed to the Bruins.
In their time playing together, their fathers' influences on their games have been clear. Corbin, who averages 10.4 points in more than 28 minutes, is heady, quick and able to anticipate what opponents will do. Payton II, who is scoring 8.5 points in more than 23 minutes, is a lockdown defender, something he says is just "in my genes."
Both of them have displayed basketball IQs rare to players so young. Their intelligence is the product of their fathers, and of traits they are uniquely suited to recognize in each other.
"It's come naturally because we've been around it our whole lives," Corbin said. "We know a little bit more than the average basketball player would know just because we've been around it."