Family bond strong as Paynes team up at Streamwood
When Kent Payne took over as Streamwood's boys basketball coach earlier this year, one of the first things he did was assemble a varsity assistant coaching staff.
He didn't have to look too far, asking his oldest son, Cully, and his longtime friend, Nick Neari, to come onboard along with family friend, Joe Nemetz, who is also Cully's godfather.
Returning to high school head coaching for the first time in 22 years, Payne has surrounded himself with a pair of former high school basketball standouts in Cully Payne and Neari.
Cully, 28, is a 2009 graduate of Schaumburg, where he earned first team IBCA all-state honors after averaging 21.6 points, 5.4 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game during his senior season.
Upon graduation, Cully attended the University of Iowa, where he was named to the all-Big Ten Freshman Team after averaging 8.7 points and 3.8 assists per game for the Hawkeyes in 2009-2010.
He finished his collegiate career at Loyola, where he averaged 7.9 points and 4.2 assists during the 2012-2013 campaign.
Neari, 28, is a 2009 graduate of St. Charles North, where he averaged 14.3 points and 4.9 assists per game as a senior while helping lead the North Stars to a 22-win season and a regional championship.
After joining Cully as a preferred walk-on at Iowa in 2009-2010, Neari transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, where he spent his final 3 years and played on the Rangers' NCAA Division II tournament-qualifying team as a senior.
They may have traded in their uniforms for street clothes but they can still be found again near the action.
"When my Dad got the job, I figured I'd be there maybe one or two times a week helping out," said Cully. "I've been there every day."
It didn't take long for Neari to make a decision either after being asked to join the Sabres' basketball coaching staff.
"I was really excited for Kent when I learned he was getting back into coaching," said Neari. "I work together with Cully all day (at CJQ Electric, Inc. -- a lighting contractor in St. Charles) and figured it would be good for us to get out of the office and help kids play better basketball."
Kent coached Cully and Neari in their early AAU playing days with the Illinois Spartans.
"We would play teams with guys two or three years older than us," recalled Neari. "We were a bunch of suburban kids who couldn't dunk and we ended up beating some inner-city teams with Division I recruits. Those were some of the best days of my life."
Both Cully, who owns CJQ Electric, Inc., and Neari soon realized some of the challenges they faced at Streamwood.
"The demographics are so different from where I played (at Schaumburg)," said Cully. "There had been a losing culture here at Streamwood -- something that needed to be changed. From the beginning of the summer to now, it has been a complete 360 (degree) difference."
A year ago, the Sabres finished 11-19 overall but were winless in the Upstate Eight Conference River Division.
Just a month into the current campaign, Streamwood finds itself at 3-6 overall but already owns a pair of conference victories (2-2 with wins over Glenbard East and Elgin).
"The players are ecstatic," said Cully. "Meanwhile, I'm asking myself, 'how do we get better?'"
Cully admits it's a "cool situation" working alongside his dad.
"I love that man," he said. "He's been there for me through everything -- the business world, basketball, life. I've learned so much from him. It's kind of like we've come full circle -- my dad had my grandpa (Jim) on the bench as an assistant (at St. Edward) before he was diagnosed with ALS."
Cully said his dad has mellowed quite a bit from his earlier days.
"I remember my dad telling me I should walk home one time after I had a bad game at Schaumburg," he said. "He was hard on us but we wound up having three Division I players in the family (Cully's sister, Katlyn -- Florida Gulf Coast, EIU, NIU and brother, Quinten -- Ball State, Dartmouth). On the flip side, my parents allowed me to be where I am now in my business by taking chances."
Both Cully and Neari are currently enjoying the ride as coaches.
"I love the kids," said Neari. "I enjoy seeing them work at it."
"The kids have been unbelievably responsive," added Cully. "It has been a great experience."
Poulin reflects on 200: In his 13th season, St. Charles North basketball coach Tom Poulin recorded his 200th career victory during last week's 37-30 victory over Jacobs.
Not bad for a guy who didn't expect to become a varsity head coach.
"I was told many times, 'you're not going to get it,'" recalled Poulin. "I waited for a long time just to get a shot. I coached eight years of girls basketball before I got the boys sophomore job here.
"I was happy -- that was good. I could have stayed there for 20 years so to get an opportunity (as a head coach) and now to have 200 (wins) -- it's great."
You can reach Craig Brueske at email@example.com