Words by Rohan Smith

That’s not a typo.

On the back of 33 triples, Payne racked up the magical century while barely breaking a sweat. The gym he’d grown up in with less-than-friendly rims and a seating capacity of fewer than 200 had been his stage for one night. The fact that only single digits witnessed the event seems the only negative to come away from what can only described as a once-off performance.

For the 187cm Kilsyth Cobra, life was good. Payne was starting at the two spot for the Cobras’ South East Australian Basketball League (SEABL) squad and enjoying one of the finest seasons of his young career.

Averaging 29 minutes a game during the 2007 season, Payne racked up healthy averages of 12.9 points, five boards, and 3.3 assists while shooting 42 per cent from the field, 82 per cent from the line and 38 per cent from deep – good for seventh in the league.

With range extending well beyond the arc, the ability to set up his teammates off the dribble, and strength and quickness to rival most point guards in the league, Payne was a tough cover every time he stepped on the floor. Having served his time as a backup on the Cobras’ bench, the young guard had forced the hand of the coaching staff, won his way into the starting line-up and garnered plenty of respect around the league.

Kilsyth men’s head coach Grant Wallace, who had been with the club when Chris arrived, witnessed the Kilsyth guard’s growth as both a player and person prior to his breakout campaign in ‘07.

“Chris was looking the best he’d looked in three or four years”, Wallace said.

“He’d played as a reserve the whole time I’d coached him but had really earned his regular starting minutes. He was just a great guy to have around the club.”

But like so many elite athletes before him, Payne would face tribulations. In sport, as in life, setbacks go hand-in-hand with success.

On February 14, 2008, while working atop a roof, Payne would be electrocuted as a steel batten he raised above his head came into contact with a power line. As electricity shot though his body, he was temporarily paralysed.

Though burns on both hands were serious enough, the gaping exit-wound on his left foot underscored the sheer force of the shock. Payne’s post-injury description; “like someone stabbed me in the neck with a lightning bolt then held a blowtorch to my foot”.

Rushed to the Alfred Hospital, Payne would remain there for three weeks. After skin graft surgery, the severity of his injuries would rule out walking for a further two months.

Though the incident was an obvious setback for the Cobras, both Payne and Coach Wallace agreed that basketball issues take a back seat when a player’s health is concerned and that the strength of any organisation is to support and rally during difficult situations.

“The club, players, coaches, parents, friends and family have all been great with support, always telling me to take my time and helping me when I needed anything”, Payne said.

“It makes things a lot easier”.

Though he’d lack lateral quickness and explosiveness during his recovery, his determination was never questioned.

“Chris would come to practice on one leg and, hobbling around, nail three after three after three”, Wallace said.

“It’d be good if we could design an offense like that to have him back sooner”.

In February this year, Payne suggested he was 75 per cent healthy. Given that for months after the operation he’d struggle to fit his surgically-repaired foot into a shoe, that in itself seems a miracle. But for Payne, 75 per cent isn’t enough.

“With another surgery to thin the graft and some orthotics to help relieve some pressure, hopefully I can be close to 100 per cent for the start of the season”, Payne said.

With April 11 targeted as a return date, few doubt Payne will accomplish a successful return to the game. It’ll be keeping him off the floor that’s the problem.

“Chris is a determined individual”, Wallace said.

“He wants to be out there as soon as possible. The real challenge will be monitoring his minutes”.

For Payne, returning to the form he displayed in 2007 is inevitable. But not everything.

“Hopefully I’ll get back to starting again, but my perspective has changed. At first I was just happy to be alive, now I’m happy to be able to go to trainings and shoot around with the guys,” Payne said.

*6-+“Just looking forward to playing again”