CAMDEN, NJ — A face familiar to the city will be picking up the clipboard for a local high school.
Camden native and professional basketball legend Charles Payton has been named head coach of the Mastery High School of Camden boys' basketball team, according to a news release on Friday. Payton will begin in his role in the fall.
A graduate of Camden High School, Payton was a member of the 1978 New Jersey Group IV state championship team that posted a 29-1 record under the late legendary Clarence Turner.
In taking the job, Payton said he was impressed with the atmosphere at Mastery. He was working with fellow Camden High grad Kevin Walls on mentoring programs when the school caught his attention.
“I was actually headed to Camden High School and looking at an assistant coaching position there,” Payton said. “I was working around Camden with Kevin Walls on different mentoring programs geared toward steering young people away from poor life decisions when Mastery invited us to take a look at what they were doing. I spoke with officials at the school and they were interested in having someone run their basketball team. I really liked what I saw.”
Despite only a couple years of high school action, Payton earned a full ride to Division I program Appalachian State University (1978-82) where he would receive numerous All Southern Conference honors. He was picked for the all-freshman team after helping the Mountaineers win the SoCon championship and qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Payton took all second-team honors as a sophomore (1979-80) then went all first team over his final two seasons. As a junior, Payton garnered SoCon Player of the Year after leading the conference in points (17.1), rebounds (10.7), and field goal percentage (63.3%).
After going undrafted to the NBA in 1982, Payton headed overseas to pursue a career. He played professionally for 13 seasons in Portugal, the United Kingdom, and Austria. Payton won six national titles, one cup title, one super cup title, and one super league tie.
He retired in 1998 and began coaching in Austria, where he would acquire dual citizenship. He won coach of the year, an Austrian national championship, and two national cup championships.
“We were excited when Mr. Payton showed an interest in our school’s basketball team,” said Rae Oglesby, spokesperson for Mastery. “When he stated he wanted to coach the Warriors, we were ecstatic. Having someone with his expertise and skill, coaching and training our students is a great honor for us, and the team is understandably thrilled about it. It’s a tremendous boost of confidence for them."
Following in the footsteps of Turner, his first mentor, Payton hopes to continue guiding youth.
“The best way to help young men and women get on the right path in life is to catch them early, and our schools are in the best position to accomplish that,” he said. “I saw immediately that the academic programs at Mastery were excellent. The students are engaged and along with the overall atmosphere of the school, I knew this was a place I wanted to be.”