Eddie Payne, a veteran of the coaching sideline having spent 32 years as a head coach, is in his 16th season as the head coach of the USC Upstate men’s basketball program.
Payne has coached at all levels and divisions of college basketball, beginning his head coaching career on the junior college level and moving through the ranks in the NAIA and NCAA Division I, II and III. He is the only current NCAA Division I head coach to have coached at all five levels of college basketball and has compiled a 487-474 career record, including a 227-241 mark at USC Upstate.
Payne has also been instrumental in developing players who have gone on to play professional basketball. He has coached 13 players – Mario Blessing (Germany), Torrey Craig (Australia), Bobby Davis (Holland), Ricardo Glenn (Russia), Ivica Grgurovic (Croatia), Kevin Harrington (USBL), Charleston Long (Australia), Babatunde Olumuyiwa (Mexico), Luke Payne (Australia), Ante Pikunic (Croatia), Nick Schneiders (Germany) and Petros Tsampas (Greece) – who have signed professional contracts to player overseas. Craig became the second player in school history in 2017-18 to sign an NBA contract, inking a two-way deal with the Denver Nuggets. Ty Greene was also drafted by the Delaware 87ers in the third round of the 2015 NBA G-League Draft.
His teams have made steady progress since making the transition to Division I in 2007, resulting in four wins over schools from Power 5 conferences, three appearances in the ASUN Tournament semifinals, the school’s first-ever trip to the ASUN Tournament final and four CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament berths. Payne has also produced two ASUN Freshman of the Year and two ASUN Player of the Year award winners.
Payne and Upstate broke through and reached the ASUN Tournament final for the first time in school history during the 2014-15 season. The Spartans upset second-seeded Florida Gulf Coast in the semifinals and came minutes away from knocking off top seeded North Florida in the championship game. During the regular season, Payne guided Upstate to wins over Georgia Tech and Mississippi State and later won his 200th game at Upstate with a victory over James Madison in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament. In addition, Upstate was ranked in the College Insider Mid-Major Top 25 Poll for the first time in school history. Individually, Ty Greene turned in one of the greatest seasons in school history on his way to earning ASUN Player of the Year accolades. Additionally, Greene was selected as the Lou Henson National Mid-Major Player of the Year after ranking 11th in the NCAA in scoring, 18th in steals per game and 23rd in three-pointers per game.
The 2012-13 season saw Payne lead Upstate to its first trip to the ASUN Tournament semifinals following a lopsided victory over Jacksonville. The 2013-14 regular season proved that Upstate had reached new heights under the direction of Payne, as the Spartans opened the year with a thrilling victory at Virginia Tech to earn the program’s first-ever victory over an opponent from the ACC. Upstate once again turned heads later in the year when it upset South Carolina in Columbia to secure the first win over the SEC in school history.
The path back to prominence during the 2011-12 season when Payne turned in arguably the best coaching performance in the country when he orchestrated one of the most successful seasons in school history. Payne guided the Spartans to a 21-13 overall record and the top turn-around in the NCAA after leading the program to 16 more wins than the season before. The season culminated with a home matchup against Kent State in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, giving Upstate its first postseason berth in school history during the Division I era. Payne coached the Spartans to a 13-5 record in ASUN play and finished tied for second in the league standings en route to earning ASUN Coach of the Year honors while being named the Hugh Durham National Mid-Major Coach of the Year. Along the way, Payne tallied his 400th career coaching victory on Feb. 25, 2012 with a 90-72 win over Stetson.
Payne led Upstate into the Division I era when the Spartans took the floor at Utah on Nov. 9, 2007. The Spartans won the first game against a Division I opponent on Dec. 18, 2007, a 58-56 victory at SMU in Dallas. Upstate played its first contest on regional ESPN television when the Spartans traveled to Iowa State on Jan. 2, 2008.
Payne returned the USC Upstate men’s basketball program to national prominence on the NCAA Division II level, leading the Spartans to back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Division II Tournament in 2004-05 and 2005-06. His Spartan teams won two consecutive league championships in the Peach Belt Conference, claiming a share of the Regular Season championship with Kennesaw State in 2004-05 and winning the conference tournament title for the first time in school history in 2005-06.
He led the 2005-06 team to a 20-10 record and the program’s first Peach Belt Tournament championship, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year and maintained a Top 25 national ranking early in the season.
Payne had a monumental year in 2004-05, returning Upstate to the top of the Peach Belt by winning the North Division title and claiming a share of the Peach Belt Championship with South Division foe Kennesaw State. The Spartans jumped into the NABC/NCAA Division II Top 25 at No. 15 on Jan. 25, 2005, and moved as high as No. 8 during the season. Upstate settled for a final No. 25 national ranking. He also led the Spartans into the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, advancing to the second round before losing to eventual national champion Virginia Union. On a personal note, Payne reached 300 wins in his 20th year of coaching, earned Peach Belt Conference Coach of the Year honors and was named South Atlantic Region Coach of the Year.
Payne came to USC Upstate after serving as both the head men’s basketball coach and assistant athletic director at Greensboro College for two years. In his first year as head coach of the Spartans in 2002-03, Payne restored Upstate to the level of success it has been accustomed to since the early 1980’s by recording an 18-11 record, finishing second in the North Division of the Peach Belt Conference, and advancing to the semifinals of the league tournament.
Prior to his stint at Greensboro College, Payne served at the helm of the Oregon State program from 1995-2000. Among his victories were wins over Stanford (No. 15 in 1996-97 and No. 6 in 1998-99), UCLA (No. 8 in 1998-99) and Arizona (No. 9 in 1998-99 and No. 3 in 1999-00). Payne coached four Pac-10 All-Freshman Team members, including Corey Benjamin. He also coached three Pac-10 All-Newcomer and three Pac-10 All-Academic honorees. He recruited and coached Deaundra Tanner, who finished as the eighth-leading scorer in school history.
Before his stint at Oregon State, Payne was the head coach at East Carolina from 1991-95. He led the Pirates to 56 wins in his four years at the school and won the program’s only Colonial Athletic Association Tournament Championship in 1993. ECU defeated James Madison in the conference championship game to advance to the NCAA Tournament, where it was pitted against North Carolina, the eventual national champions, in the first round. Payne coached five CAA All-Rookie and two All-Conference selections at ECU.
He began his head coaching career at Truett-McConnell College in Georgia, leading the junior college program to a 25-5 record in his only season at the helm of the program in 1978-79.
Payne became the head coach at Belmont Abbey in 1981 and remained at the head of the program for five years, leaving the position after the 1986 season. He tallied a 103-51 record at Belmont Abbey.
In addition to his stints as a head coach, Payne has also served as an assistant coach at three NCAA Division I programs. He was on the sidelines at Clemson from 1975-78 as an assistant during the Tree Rollins era. From 1979-81, he was an assistant at East Carolina, where he made such as impression on the athletic administration that he was hired as the head coach of the program ten years later after his departure from Belmont Abbey.
Payne also served on the coaching staff of George Felton at South Carolina from 1986-91. The Gamecocks tallied an 87-62 record during Payne’s stint at the school. South Carolina advanced to the NCAA East Regional in 1989 and the Postseason NIT in 1991. Payne coached six All-Metro Conference selections during his tenure, including standouts Jo Jo English and John Hudson.
Payne graduated from Wake Forest in 1973 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications. He was a member of the Demon Deacon basketball team from 1970-73, averaging 11.0 points per game during his career and led the team in free throw percentage in 1971-72 and 1972-73. Payne received the school’s prestigious Arnold Palmer Award as the Outstanding Student-Athlete in 1973. In addition to the Arnold Palmer Award, he was named the team’s Most Valuable Player as a senior in 1973.
Upon graduation, he continued his playing career professionally in France from 1973-74, leading Domene as it advanced to the D-I level.
He earned a Master of Education degree from Clemson in 1978, while serving as an assistant coach. Payne also graduated from East Mecklenburg High School and was an All-State selection in basketball.
Payne and his wife, Ann, have a son, Luke, who graduated from Upstate in 2008 and was a standout on the men’s basketball team, finishing his career ranked ninth all-time in scoring with 1,381 points. Luke was also inducted into the Upstate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2015. Ann is a former women’s basketball coach at Alabama, Charlotte, Belmont Abbey and Berry College.