Although New York Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau has drawn criticism from many this season, recent reports have indicated that he’ll remain on the sidelines beyond 2021-22. However, the same can’t be said for his top assistant.
Namely, Kenny Payne, who will be returning to his alma mater to take one of college basketball’s top jobs.
As reported by CBS Sports’ Jon Rothstein and others, Payne has come to an agreement on a deal to become the new head coach of the Louisville Cardinals. His hiring will be officially announced at a press conference on Friday morning.
The 55-year-old had been considered a top candidate for the job since January when Chris Mack was relieved of his duties. Payne will be the first Black head coach in the history of the Louisville basketball program.
Payne Was Formerly a Fixture of the College Game
Payne was the first addition Thibodeau made to his staff back in August of 2020. According to the New York Post’s Marc Berman, Knicks executive William Wesley had pushed for him to be hired, in spite of the fact that Thibodeau didn’t know Payne personally.
Nevertheless, the move paid dividends for the coach and his club.
As chronicled by Andscape’s Marc J. Spears, Payne played a key role in Julius Randle’s emergence as an All-Star last season which, in turn, was a major factor in the Knicks going 41-31 and earning a top-four playoff seed.
Of course, Payne had a preexisting relationship with the baller from their mutual time at Kentucky. And the coach was similarly involved with his development then.
“He taught me how to be a good teammate,” Randle said, via Spears. “He taught me really how to work… KP is always about the grind, man. If we’re going to get in the gym, we’re going to work.”
Before signing on with the Knicks, Payne had spent a decade in Lexington as a member of John Calipari’s Wildcats staff — first as an assistant and then, later, as associate head coach.
He was also an assistant with the Oregon Ducks from 2004 to 2009.
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Coach Cal Sounds off on Payne to Louisville
With word beginning to circulate that the Cardinals were talking to Payne about the job, Calipari was asked to comment about the potential partnership on Wednesday. The legendary coach and Basketball Hall of Fame inductee made it clear that he thought Lousiville was making the right move.
“Well, first of all, he’s a dear friend. And I will tell you that they could not hire anybody that will do a better job than Kenny Payne,” he said.
“Great coach, great human being, great husband, great father. Louisville graduate… they say he should have been hired before there. But, you know what? They get him, they get the best of the best.”