Coolidge Florence boys basketball_0474.JPG

Florence guard Malik Payton drives to the hoop against Coolidge on Jan. 26 in Florence.

FLORENCE — Gophers standout Malik Payton has decided to continue his basketball career at a Division-I school in Indianapolis.

“I’ve been a kid with a dream of playing DI basketball for awhile now, and them giving me the opportunity, with a lot of other great opportunities, it was just a great spot for me,” Payton told PinalCentral.

After putting up some 1,400 career points for the Florence Gophers, Payton is looking forward to contributing to the Jaguars of Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, better known as IUPUI.

“They’ve had some shaky seasons. That’s due to obviously they’re going through a rebuilding process, getting new coaches and everything,” Payton said of the current status of the school’s men’s basketball program. “But I just feel like I can come in, I can work hard, and I can earn everything that I deserve.”

How well he fits in “depends on how hard I go in practice,” Payton said. “Obviously I talked to the coach and they said the harder I go in practice, the more minutes I’ll get. The harder I work and the more it shows, that’s how much playing time I’ll get, so we’ll see.”

What impressed him about the coaches was “pretty much just the straight-up honesty, telling me how it is and telling me that everything that I work for is what I’ll get, and that’s just something that really stood out to me.” Payton has also been in contact with a couple of Jaguars players.

Gophers coach David Silvas said, “I’m just very proud of Malik, he’s been working for this probably his whole life. I know his dad has been instrumental in helping him develop as a player. I know that he worked hard his senior year and after his basketball season at Florence High School ended, he’s working extremely hard competing.”

Payton, the 3A South Central region boys player of the year and PinalCentral’s boys county player of the year, now plays for Team Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a club team in Phoenix.

“From where I saw him as a freshman four years ago to where he became as a senior … just the quality of basketball that he puts out, the talent that he has, the hard work and determination that he has, I just couldn’t be more proud of him,” Silvas said.

Payton said he owes a lot to his father, Jerome, who’s supported him by “being on top of everything I’m doing, making sure that my grades are good, or making sure I’m getting into the gym to work. He’s definitely been a big motivator, and a lot of the things I do are for him.”

It will be Payton’s first time living in the Midwest.

“It’ll definitely be something new. A big change for sure,” he said. “But I mean, going to college is a time of growing up, and you have to accept that change sometimes.”

He plans to be a communications major.

He said he’ll also miss the Gophers.

“Probably all my friends and family, being able to see everybody every day, going to school with them all, just making those memories every day,” he said of what he’ll miss the most.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.