High school and college career
Payton was born in Oakland, California. He played high school basketball at Skyline High School in Oakland, California, along with former NBA player Greg Foster, before attending Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. In his second year, his grades plummeted and he was declared academically ineligible. His dad encouraged him to focus on school, and he was allowed to play again. Throughout his four-year career at OSU, he became one of the most decorated basketball players in OSU history. During his senior year, Payton was featured on the March 5, 1990 cover of Sports Illustrated magazine as the nation's best college basketball player. He was a consensus All-American in 1990, a three-time All-Pac-10 selection, and both the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year and conference Freshman of the Year in 1987. He was the MVP of the Far West Classic tournament three times and was the Pac-10 Player of the Week nine times. He also was named to the Pac-10's All-Decade Team. At the time of his graduation, he held the school record for points, field goals, three-point field goals, assists, and steals – all of which he still holds today except for career three-point field goals. During his career at OSU, the Beavers made three NCAA Tournament appearances and one NIT appearance. He was elected into OSU's Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.