By Robert Wilson

       For the second straight year, the top-rated senior boys basketball player will be playing his college ball at Mississippi State.

       Raymond High’s 6-foot-9 senior center Eric Paymon – the top-rated player in Mississippi in the Class of 2024 by ESPN – announced Wednesday he has verbally committed to MSU.

       Madison-Ridgeland Academy alumnus Josh Hubbard – the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year for 2023 – is a freshman guard at MSU and is one of the top freshman scorers in the country and a candidate for SEC Freshman of the Year.

       Paymon – the two-time MSHAA Class 4A Player of the Year – hasDivision I offers from Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Texas Christian University, Alabama-Birmingham, South Florida, Murray State, New Mexico State, Oral Roberts, Georgia State, and Morehead State in addition to MSU.

       “I’m very excited about EJ (Eric’s nickname) becoming a Bulldog,” Raymond coach Tony Tadlock said. “Their staff, notably (assistant) Coach George Brooks did an outstanding job recruiting him and believed in him since Day One. EJ has shown tremendous growth through his entire high school career. Mississippi State is getting a great basketball player, but an even better person. He’s a super high character kid that is a true athlete that all Bulldog fans will be glad he’s in maroon and white.”

Eric Paymon and family signing pic

       Paymon is averaging 23.8 points, 9.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 3.5 blocked shots per game and has led Raymond to a 27-4 record this season. He has career highs of 36 points against Lanier this season.

Raymond – which is going after its eighth consecutive MHSAA Class 4A state championship appearance – plays Pass Christian Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in the state quarterfinals at Pearl River Community College in Perkinston. Raymond won state titles in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022 during its state championship appearance streak.

       Paymon was a member of the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team this season.

Paymon averaged 22.1 points and 10.3 rebounds and helped Raymond to a 27-7 record and a MHSAA Class 4A runner-up finish and made first team All-Metro Jackson last season as a junior.

“EJ is not your typical No. 1 player in the state in that he looks to get his teammates involved as much as he likes to score,” Tadlock said. “His work ethic is what sets him apart as he is often the first in the gym and the last one to leave.”

Paymon is the son of Eric and Kimberly Paymon. Eric played basketball for two years at Provine High and two years at Forest Hill High. He graduated from Hinds Community College. Kimberly graduated from Forest Hill and Hinds CC.

       Eric has one sister, Eriel Paymon, who was a cheerleader at Murrah High, graduated from the University of Memphis and is now in her second year as a dancer for the Atlanta Hawks of the NBA.

Both of Eric’s grandfathers played high school basketball. Harwell Paymon (Eric’s father) played at Jim Hill and Jessie Jordan (Kimberly’s father) played at Murrah.