D.J. Stephens and Adreian Payne trade blocked shots

This isn’t really a fair fight. Michigan State junior center Adreian Payne, who’s by all accounts is a real kindhearted dude, tries to post up Memphis guard Joe Jackson on the right block. He spins right and jumps.

Enter Memphis forward D.J. Stephens, a senior who Coach Josh Pastner said could win the NBA dunk contest. Payne tries to adjust his shot, but ends up losing grip of the basketball, which ultimately slides down Payne’s palm. All he really can do it peg the ball at the basket, and watch as Stephens missiles it into the seats.

This isn’t new, by the way.

Stephens has a pretty cool story. Four years ago, he couldn’t do “more than two pushups in a row.” Pastner himself, who displayed similar leaping ability Saturday, called Stephens a “zero-star recruit.” CBSSports’ Gary Parrish notes that Stephens received offers from North Texas, Western Kentucky, San Francisco and Sam Houston State, but Pastner came calling with an opportunity after North Texas yanked his scholarship.

Here’s Commercial Appeal columnist Geoff Calkins, who writes that Stephens is certainly one of the most beloved Tigers of all time:

“I got a mass e-mail from his AAU coach,” said Pastner. “I called him and offered him a scholarship.”

Stephens remembers crying when he got the call from Memphis.

“A week later he was here and I watched him work out and I was the one crying,” said Pastner, laughing.

Except — remember — this fable is true. Well, maybe not the part about Pastner literally crying. But the guts of it. Pure truth.

Even with Stephens patrolling the paint and sending Michigan State shots in the opposite direction, the Tigers are still fighting for their NCAA tournament lives. But fight they will — with or without shoes.

Update: Payne is doing fine. He returned the favor.


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Alex Prewitt covers the Washington Capitals. Follow him on Twitter @alex_prewitt or email him at alex.prewitt@washpost.com.
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