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Fits like a glove

CORVALLIS — If Gary Payton II had any second thoughts about following his father’s legacy at Oregon State, he had an easy out.

Payton signed with OSU coach Craig Robinson early in his sophomore year at Salt Lake Community College, but when Robinson was fired in May, Payton II had a wider variety of schools interested in him after averaging 14.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game for the Bruins. He took a visit to St. Mary’s, but eventually decided to stick with the Beavers after Wayne Tinkle was hired as coach.

“Once the coaching change happened, I stayed committed and waited to see who they brought in,” Payton II said. “Once coach Tinkle was announced, I touched base with him to see what his plan was. More than anything, I wanted to help the program get back to where they were years ago. That’s what made me stay. I wanted to help the program get better.”

The program was a national power under coach Ralph Miller in the 1980s, winning Pac-10 championships and reaching the NCAA Tournament on an annual basis up through 1990, the last tournament team the Beavers had led by Gary Payton, an All-American and Pac-10 Player of the Year.

While Gary Payton has some of the greatest accomplishments in OSU history, his son matched him in one category Monday when he had 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in a 71-43 win over Grambling State. That was the second triple-double in school history after his father reached that milestone in 1988.

“It’s something we can talk about now,” Payton II said. “I thank my teammates for helping me get there. ... I thank coach for putting me in for a couple of more minutes.”

Tinkle said he usually would not put a player back in a blowout victory to boost his statistics, but decided it was the right move when he put Payton II back in with eight assists against the Tigers.

“The only reason we thought that this was different was the fact it was two assists and not necessarily two or four points,” Tinkle said. “The overwhelming part was that it was his father as the only one that has had one.”

Nearly a quarter of a century after his father dazzled the crowds at Gill Coliseum, the Payton legacy is back at Oregon State because Gary Payton II didn’t shy away from it when he signed with the Beavers.

“There were pros and cons at first,” Payton II said of following in his father’s famous footsteps at OSU. “I came to Corvallis and they made me feel loved. They cared about me and I knew it was a family that would help me out through thick and thin, so there was no doubt in my mind that Oregon State was my choice. Pressure does come with it, but I don’t think about that too much. I just work on my game.”

Payton II consulted with his father on his college choice before making a final decision.

“He loves that I chose here,” Payton II said. “He didn’t force me or push me into coming here. He just made sure it was the right choice for me and I felt like it was.”

Payton II wears No. 1 for the Beavers instead of his father’s No. 20 that was retired by the school in 1997.

“I wanted to let that name hang in the rafters,” he said.

The lack of success at Oregon State since Gary Payton left to be drafted in the first round by the Seattle SuperSonics has made him the last star from the glory days of OSU basketball and kept him among the most popular players to ever suit up for the Beavers.

“I’ve had nothing but a positive reaction here,” Payton II said. “Everyone comes up and tells me a story or two about my father. Some I’ve heard and some I haven’t, so it has been great. The community has been really nice.”

The 6-foot-3 junior point guard has quickly become a fan favorite, leading the team with 13.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.6 steals per game to help the Beavers get off to a surprising 7-2 start heading into today’s home game against DePaul. He also averages 2.9 assists per game and has 10 blocked shots.

In a 74-50 win over Mississippi Valley State earlier this month, Payton II had 24 points and 16 rebounds and went high above the rim for a rebound dunk that made national highlights and showed off some of the differences between father and son.

“I’m more of a leaper, he wasn’t really a leaper,” Payton II said. “Offensively, he was a little more aggressive and I like to get my team more involved and make everyone better.”

That’s what Tinkle was hoping for from one of the few upperclassmen in a rebuilding program.

“His leadership has been good and he’s been very vocal, which is unusual for a new kid,” Tinkle said. “He’s trying to feel where his opportunities are to score, but where we need him is to be our spearhead on defense. Be a facilitator and communicator on defense and then the offense will come once he gets comfortable in the system.”

There are also plenty of similarities between Payton II and his father, who was nicknamed “The Glove”.

“Defensively, we have the same mentality,” Payton II said. “I want to get everyone together and make sure we play defense right.”

Gary Payton also passed along the trash-talking gene to his son.

“I chip away at people and try to get under their skin,” Payton II said. “It works sometimes, but he went overboard with it. He’s got the crown there.”

Gary Payton, who works as an announcer for Fox Sports, has remained close to the OSU program, showing up at games in recent years and now he has even more reasons to watch the Beavers play.

“He’s definitely going to be around here and we are on Fox, so hopefully he gets one of our games,” Payton II said. “I’m sure we will see him a lot.”

Oregon State was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 after a major offseason roster overhaul and coaching change, but Payton II hopes to help the program begin a climb back to the success it enjoyed with his father at point guard.

“That was my big thing coming here, if we can get back there like it was in the past, that would really mean something and say something to everybody,” he said.

Oregon State's Gary Payton II, right, has made a big impact this year for the Beavers. AP PHOTO