LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The University of Louisville will name one of its own and make a historic move with its new men’s basketball coach, two sources confirmed Wednesday night.
Kenny Payne, who scored nearly 1,100 points in his U of L career, will follow Chris Mack as the Cards’ head coach.
After the Knicks defeated Portland, 128-98, Wednesday night in New York City, Payne said goodbye to players on the team that he has served as an assistant coach the last two seasons. A source said the players celebrated with Payne, who wanted to coach the game against Portland.
An announcement by Louisville is scheduled for 10 am Friday at the KFC Yum! Center, making Payne the first Black head coach in the history of a program that was one of the first in the south to integrate.
Payne was interested in the job four years ago but did not receive a serious interview. A source said that Payne discussed the job with U of L interim athletic director Josh Heird and Glenn Sugiyama of DHL Global search firm Wednesday morning.
Now, as the choice of Heird, Payne faces the challenge of fixing a program that finished 13-19 this season, failing to make the NCAA Tournament. Mack was dismissed in late January, and interim coach Mike Pegues finished the season in charge. The Cards also await a ruling from the NCAA on an offense case that many expect will include probation and a possible ban from the NCAA Tournament.
Payne will work at rebuilding relationships in the community, within the U of L basketball family as well as with AAU and high school programs.
He will come to Louisville after two seasons as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks, who hired Payne in 2020 after his 10-year run as John Calipari’s top assistant coach with Kentucky. Payne has been mentored by three Hall of Fame coaches — Calipari, Larry Brown and Denny Crum — over his playing and coaching career. This is his first head coaching opportunity.
He made the choice to coach the Cards over interest from at least two other college programs in the Southeastern Conference.
Payne, 55, is a native of Laurel, Mississippi. Former U of L assistant coach Wade Houston recruited him in 1985, convincing Payne to sign with the Cards over offers from Kentucky and other top programs. He was a member of a strong six-player recruiting class that also featured Payne’s close friend, Pervis Ellison.
Payne was a freshman reserve on Louisville’s 1986 NCAA title team. The Philadelphia 76ers drafted him in the first round of the 1989 NBA Draft. At 6-foot-8-inch forward, Payne averaged 14.5 points and made nearly 43% of his three-point shots as a senior.
He played part of four seasons in Philadelphia before finishing his professional career overseas. Payne returned to U of L to finish his degree work in 2001. While in Louisville, he often drove to Detroit on weekends to gain coaching experience with Brown and the Pistons. He also built a strong friendship with current Indiana head coach Mike Woodson, which continued when they coached together with the Knicks last season.
Payne and his wife, Michelle, have two children, including a daughter, Alexis and a son, Zan, who is a walk-on reserve at Kentucky.
He started his college coaching career as an assistant to Ernie Kent at Oregon, working with the Ducks from 2004-09. After a year out of the game, Payne joined Calipari at UK in 2010. He quickly established himself as one of the game’s top assistants for his ability to develop relationships with players, parents and AAU programs as well as his skill working with post players.
Former UK stars like Julius Randle, Karl Anthony-Towns, Devin Booker, Bam Adabeyo and Tyler Herro have remained close with Payne after leaving Kentucky for the NBA.
In 2020, Payne left Kentucky to become Tom Thibodeau’s top assistant with the Knicks. Last season, the Knicks were one of the most improved teams in the NBA with Thibodeau earning Coach of the Year recognition. This season has been more difficult. With 13 games to play, the Knicks are 29-40, 12th place in the Eastern Conference, 5 games out of the playoffs.
But Payne’s reputation as a teacher and unflappable sideline presence remained intact. Now, he will accept the task of returning his alma mater to national prominence.
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