The only thing about last Friday's game unfamiliar to Zerrion Payton was the stage.
It's unfair to call Payton a defensive specialist, because the senior guard does have offensive skills, but he's accepted and embraced his role with Modesto Christian, which is to blanket the opposition's best perimeter scoring threat.
"Z is our lockdown guy," said MC co-coach Gary Porter. "But this whole team takes pride in the defense."
The Crusaders' 66-54 victory over Sierra gave the school its 15th boys section title and secured tonight's spot in the NorCal Open Division against Bishop O'Dowd at Chabot College.
It was the first such experience for Payton, who sat out MC's title run last season after transferring from Weston Ranch.
So it also was the first time Payton had the chance to play at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. Once there, he ran into a familiar foe in Timberwolves guard Guillermo Nunez.
Nunez is perhaps the top scoring guard in the Stanislaus District, and the top priority for all teams is to make sure he doesn't find his offensive rhythm early in the game. If Nunez is scoring, Sierra finds a rhythm that makes it tough to beat.
The senior guard did score 19 points, but all of them came with his team trailing significantly in the game. In the first half, as Sierra was attempting to set the tone, Nunez was 1 for 5 from the field for two points.
"Our screens were sloppy in the first half, like we didn't want to put our body on anyone," said Sierra coach Scott Thomason. "But they had a lot to do with that, with their pressure and their length. He (Payton) did a good job chasing Nunez around and forcing some tough shots."
It was almost like Payton had seen Nunez before, which, of course, he had. The two went head-to-head in the Valley Oak League before Payton transferred.
"Having played against him before wasn't an advantage, but I take it personally every time I have to guard the main guy on the other team and he's Sierra's main guy," Payton said. "I take pride in that."
You might say playing defense is in his blood. He's the nephew of 18-year NBA veteran Gary Payton, the only point guard in league history to win the league's defensive player of the year award.
His nickname was "The Glove."
"My uncle played the same way," Payton said. "He locked down everybody he played and it's in my blood to do everything I can do to help my team win.
"They call me 'The Mitten.' "
Here's a short story to go with Gary Payton's nickname. As legend has it, he was given the tag during the 1993 Western Conference Finals when he locked down Phoenix guard Kevin Johnson.
After the game, someone suggested that Payton was holding down Johnson "like a baseball in a glove," and it stuck.
Payton and Johnson continue to be on opposite sides. While Johnson, as Sacramento's mayor, is doing everything in his power to keep the Sacramento Kings from moving, Payton is part of Seattle's effort to bring the team to the Pacific Northwest.
Zerrion Payton never got the chance to watch his uncle play in person, but the two do get quality time on the basketball court.
"I was too young to see him play in person," Payton said. "If I go to his home in Vegas, we always play one-on-one and talk a lot of smack. It's a real competitive thing and he's a really funny guy."
A funny guy with a solid legacy in the game as one of its great defensive guards. Or roughly the role his nephew is playing at Modesto Christian.
And last Friday, that meant stepping on an NBA court for the first time.
"Last year I didn't get to play here because I had transferred over," Payton said. "We won the section title, and I told myself that we would be back and we would be playing again for the section title.
"I took it upon myself, as did my teammates, to play hard and work hard over the summer and through the season to get back here."
Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek