Georgia can thank Delmarie Payton for her son going all in on tennis when, growing up in Atlanta, baseball pulled him toward the diamond.
Nathan Pasha could bring it as a left-handed pitcher, his mother remembers.
“My mom ended up picking tennis for me because she was being a mom,” Pasha said.
“The problem I had with baseball was the atmosphere,” Payton explained, remembering some coaches that used salty language. “Those kids were just a little different. The tennis community it was all family-oriented and it was nice. It was hard for me to pick because I think he would have been great at baseball, but I just felt growing up and as a single mom, that was a better fit. I’m glad I did.”
So is Georgia, where the junior plays No. 2 singles for the Bulldogs.
Tenth-seeded Georgia’s chances Friday in an NCAA tournament round of 16 match against North Carolina are certainly better if Pasha is on his game.
The nation’s No. 30 ranked singles player suffered a partial tear of a patellar tendon a week ago before a first round singles match and was out of the lineup the next day as well, which his mother said “devastated” him. He saw a specialist early this week and is expected to at least try to return to play.
Pasha’s mother plans to be there to root on her son, who was born three minutes before his twin sister Natha.
His grandparents, James and Pearl Walls, also make the trip to Athens to see him play when they can.
“His family has made tremendous sacrifices for him,” Georgia coach Manuel Diaz said. “He’s still a very humble kid. He knows where he’s come from and has a tremendous sense of family. Sacrifice and work ethic are among his biggest assets. All that is obvious and it comes from seeing his mother sacrifice for him. His grandparents are big fans, they come to most of the matches here. Just a very well-grounded young man even if he’s had some hardship.”
Pasha rose from first playing tennis at age 7 at the Boys & Girls Club in Atlanta to the No. 5 rated recruit in the nation and No. 1 in Georgia after moving from his home not far from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta to Boca Raton, Fla., at the USTA Training Center at the age of 14.
He showed so much commitment to playing tennis that Pasha’s mother, who works as an assistant paralegal, decided she would do everything she could to help him succeed on the junior circuit.
“I didn’t realize how much it was going to cost because every time he got better, it cost more,” she said.
“She was super on him making sure he was working hard and making sure he’s doing the right things,” said doubles partner Garrett Brasseaux from Mandeville, La., who has known Pasha since he was 10 as rivals in the southeast. “I think that’s where he gets his work ethic from because she’s very focused and she does a good job of rubbing that off on him.”
Along the way, the Georgia tennis community was there to help but she said “sometimes I didn’t pay a bill just to make sure he had an entry fee.” In Boca Raton, USTA national coach Michael Sell, a former Georgia All-American, was like a father-figure to Pasha, Payton said.
Pasha’s father, Nathan Parker, lives in Pennsylvania now after being released from prison in January after serving time for real estate fraud. Pasha visited his father in jail when he was in Atlanta and then sent him emails when he was incarcerated in New Jersey.
“I talk to him occasionally when I can and I still love him and everything,” Pasha said. “I’m sure when he gets enough money and is able to come down here, he’d like to see me play. It’s no hard feelings.”
Pasha is planning on traveling to a Futures event in Pennsylvania this summer and said he may have a chance to see his father in person then. He provides updates on how he’s doing at Georgia usually by text.
Pasha is 26-12 overall this season in singles but said he lost too many close matches for his liking.
There’s plenty of positive things off the court, too, that Pasha is doing to make his family proud.
He made the honor roll in the fall semester, is co-president of the Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) and a member of L.E.A.D, the school’s athletics leadership academy.
Because of his focus on tennis, Pasha was home schooled starting at the age of 9, but has adjusted to the return to the classroom after what he said was a rough start at Georgia.
He credits both academic advisor Rachel Jones and his girlfriend Kaleigh Mazza, who aspires to be a teacher, for pushing him.
“I think every coach wants a kid like him in his program,” Diaz said. “He’s improved a great deal in his three years here. He’s become a leader. … He’s just a tremendous kid. He’s going to make a great captain next year.”