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Curley-Payne was Minister of Defense of Girls High School Basketball

By John Gillis on December 11, 2015 blog

Curley-Payne playing for Chula Vista (California) Eastlake High School

A cursory review of the “Girls Basketball - Defense” section of the NFHS’ National High School Sports Record Book quickly reveals the name of Cheyenne Curley-Payne.

Curley-Payne, who was a 5-foot-4 four-year-starting point guard for Chula Vista (California) Eastlake High School from 2006 to 2009, stands atop the “Career Steals” and “Single-season Steals” lists, and for good measure also ranks tied for second on the latter list.

During her career, she compiled 1,065 steals - a healthy 140 more than that of the second-place person. As a junior in 2007-08, she pilfered the ball 328 times, while she collected 295 as a sophomore in 2006-07.

For Curley-Payne, playing the defensive side of the game of basketball – and particularly with regard to stealing the ball from an opponent - is something that she fervently embraces and turns into a true art form.

“There are several things you can control on the court and for me the most important is how hard you work on defense,” Curley-Payne began. “Defense is just a matter of who wants the ball more and I'm going to do everything I can to not let you score! When it comes to stealing the ball, I really just think about getting a defensive stop and getting the ball back so we can go score.

“I take pride in my defense when I'm on the court. I don't like to lose. I take pride in letting you know that you’re not going to score on me and if you do, I'm going to make it very difficult. When it comes to me stealing the ball, I think my ‘basketball IQ’ is pretty high, so I'm great at anticipating what is going to happen next. I just have a knack for the ball and for knowing where it is at all times, which makes it easier for me to get steals and to plan my next heist (LOL!). I also think it just comes back to hard work.

Curley-Payne finished her career at Eastlake with 1, 065 steals

“The thing I enjoy most about the game is just how fun it is being on the court. Playing basketball is my stress-reliever. It allows me to go into my ‘escape zone’ for a few hours and not have to deal with any issues or whatever I may be dealing with at that time. Playing basketball has allowed me to gain and build longtime friendships and relationships that will last forever, including with my teammates and Coach Janet Eleazar.”

Unwilling to be pigeonholed as a one-trick pony playing just one side of the game, Curley-Payne also excelled as a playmaker on offense. With 1,005 career assists, The Pride of Eastlake High School ranks eighth on that career list, and can also boast the unusual combination of having more than 1,000 steals and 1,000 assists.

“I love being a playmaker!” Curley Payne exclaimed. “As a point guard, it's my job to get my teammates/scorers the ball. As most people get excited when they score, I get excited in being the one who got them the ball where they can be most efficient. I love getting my teammates involved because I believe when you get everyone involved, it boosts the morale of the team because everyone feels that they’ve contributed to the game - whether it’s a win or a loss.

Cheyenne Curley-Payne (left) and her coach at Eastlake – Janet Eleazar

“Of course, winning is so much better. However, with the losses you figure out what you need to do to step your game up and not make the same mistakes. I'm a very unselfish player, almost to my detriment. However, if I need to take over or to score, I can make that happen too!”

Under the watchful tutelage of Coach Eleazar, Curley-Payne was the catalyst of a talented squad that enjoyed great hardcourt success.

“I was the starting point guard and played with a very talented pool of girls who played hard,” Curley-Payne recalled. “We had a very solid team at Eastlake all four years. Unfortunately, we never made it to State, but we got into postseason play twice.

“As a freshman, I was very quiet and shy with a low-key demeanor and personality. I was kind of the unsung hero. I think I might have received Rookie of the Year that year, but the following years I received All-Conference, All-CIF-San Diego Section, and All-CIF honors.

“Coach Eleazar is great! She taught me a lot about basketball, and most importantly that ‘32 minutes of defense’ wins games. She is the one who got me to play defense the way I do. She pushed and challenged me at every opportunity, and believed in me and my skill set. Coach Janet prided herself in having a defensively sound team. So, I can honestly say that all the records I earned, I owe to her for being a great coach, mentor, teacher and friend.”

According to Eleazar – who was a shooting guard roughly the same height as Curley-Payne at San Diego (California) Southwest High School and at Southwestern Community College in Chula Vista (where she currently is head coach of the Jaguars’ women’s basketball team) – Curley-Payne possessed both great skills and intangibles that enabled her to become a standout player.

“Cheyenne was a ‘silent leader’ for us,” Eleazar said. “She was a true point guard who would rather give up the ball to her teammates, and her ability to break a press with her quickness made everything easier. Her goal was always to win as a team.”

“Overall, she had the whole package. At a young age, she already had a high basketball IQ and a nose for the ball. She never complained about an injury, had tremendous determination, and made things happen. Things came naturally for her. In addition, she averaged around six or seven rebounds in high school. Cheyenne might have been 5-4, but she played like she was 6-4.”

Curley-Payne (No. 5 on right) playing for Howard University in a game with Baylor University

During her tenure as Eastlake head coach, Eleazar led the program to 11 league titles in 12 years and to perennial top-four rankings in San Diego County. Well-known for mentoring young players, Eleazar has helped more than 20 of her high school players go on play at the next level.

In addition to excelling in athletics, Curley–Payne was the epitome of a true student-athlete as she sported a glittering 3.5 grade-point average in the classroom, graduated with honors, and was a member of the National Society of High School Scholars.

Not only possessing a great game, Curley-Payne also owns a great first name – one that has an interesting and unique story behind it.

“My mom told me that one of her best friends, Jeanine Chambers, hung out all the time when she was pregnant with me,” Curley-Payne said. “And every time she would came around, she would rub my mom's stomach and say, ‘Hey Cheyenne, how you doin’?’ My mom didn't like the name at first, but as the months passed by, the name began to wear on her and she named me ‘Cheyenne.’”

Following her high school graduation in 2009, Curley-Payne cast her lot with Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she went on to become a cage standout for the Lady Bison. While there, she ranked in the top five in both steals and assists in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.

“I was attracted to Howard University by its coaching staff when I went for my official visit,” Curley-Payne began. “My older sister, LaReina Gray, also went to Howard and she said that I would like the school and the atmosphere and that I would enjoy it. So, decided it was a good fit for me.

“The year before I enrolled at Howard, they won nine games. Once I got there, we had a young team of nine freshmen who came in with me. We were determined to change the culture at Howard. After winning 16 games my freshman year, we went 24-9 my junior year and won more than 20 games my senior year. We went to three consecutive conference championship games and to two postseason tournaments.”

Despite standing just 5-4 and playing mostly on the perimeter as a point guard, during her senior year Curley-Payne ranked second on the squad with an impressive rebound average of 8.9 per game.

“I've always had high averages on rebounds,” Curley-Payne noted. “I'll piggyback of my defensive philosophy on who wants the ball more. I also think it's just really knowing and understanding the game of basketball and then knowing where the ball is going to go once it hits the rim or backboard. I could always read it really well and I must say I have some hops on me to be 5-4!”

After attending a combine in 2013 and considering playing overseas, these days Curley-Payne is involved with basketball in another way.

“Although I’m not playing right now and I still consider it from time to time, I'm still in the basketball environment,” Curley-Payne noted. “Currently, I’m working in Maryland as the Director of Operations for Women's Basketball at Towson University with my former coach from Howard University, Niki Reid-Geckler.”