Ten years ago, Greg Foster and Gary Payton were teammates.
In 1986, they led their Skyline High School team in Oakland, Calif., to its second straight All-City title. Payton was the speedy, trash-talking point guard, Foster the lanky, paint-dominating center. Both scored in bunches, both were recruited by a lot of Div. I schools.Foster, now a member of the Utah Jazz's center quartet, and Payton, the star point guard for the Seattle SuperSonics, will meet again today at Key Arena. They don't talk much on the court, at least not during the playoffs, but they are still friends.
And Foster said he's not the least bit surprised by how good Payton has become.
"It's not amazing to me at all," Foster said. "He's always been confident. Cocky and confident. And we knew how good he was. It was just a matter of time."
Both players have put in their time. Acquaintances since elementary school, they started playing together in junior high. They played on a traveling AAU team coached by Payton's father, taking their game to such places as Phoenix and Las Vegas.
When Payton started high school he was about 5-foot-10, Foster said. By his senior year he was up around 6-4, and recruiters were flocking to Skyline's games. Payton and Foster were named to the All-City, All-State and Best in the West teams.
Asked who was the better scorer, Foster says, "We were pretty even, but he probably took the brunt of the scoring load. He wasn't a shooter, a flashy type player, but he'd score when we needed him to."
Payton has a reputation as a talker on the court, a guy who will score on an opponent and then add insult to injury. Did he talk as much in high school?
"Worse," Foster said. "This is nothing compared to what he did then. What he does now is mild."
Foster notes, however, that trash-talking was Oakland basketball. "It was a wild time, but it was fun," he said.
Foster went to UCLA and eventually transferred to UTEP. Payton went to Oregon State, not exactly a hoops powerhouse, after some higher-profile schools passed on him.
"He was really underrated then," Foster said. "A lot of schools were kicking themselves after the fact."
Foster was also recruited by OSU and, in retrospect, wishes he'd stuck with his high school teammate.
"We should have gone to college together," Foster said. "It probably would have made me a lottery pick. I still remember all those alley-oop passes he threw me."
Considering all his good memories of playing with Payton, and their continuing friendship, Foster naturally was asked if he'll feel sympathy for Payton if the Jazz win Game 7 today.
"No," he said quickly. "And he isn't going to feel any sympathy if he beats us."