LEXINGTON, KY (WTVQ) – Arguably Kentucky Basketball’s most important assistant coach is headed to the NBA. First reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and then confirmed by UK Athletics, the Knicks have hired Kenny Payne as an assistant coach.
The New York Knicks have hired Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne as an assistant coach, sources tell ESPN. Payne is the first formal addition to new coach Tom Thibodeau’s staff with the Knicks.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 11, 2020
Payne released a statement thanking the university for all they’ve done for him and his career.
“First of all, I want to thank Dr. Eli Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and Coach Cal for the unbelievable opportunity I’ve had at Kentucky for the last 10 years,” Payne said. “I’ve been blessed to not only coach at the greatest program in college basketball but to be in a position to help young men grow and develop and to play a part in their families’ lives. They’ve been 10 of the most rewarding years of my life, and I’ll cherish my time in Lexington for the rest of my career.
“This decision wasn’t easy for me. I have a great job at Kentucky, and to think about leaving has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I have also been offered an incredible opportunity with the New York Knicks and a chance to help restore what I believe should be the premier organization in the NBA.
“Big Blue Nation, thank you for embracing me and treating me and my family with respect. You are truly the best fans in college basketball and a major ingredient to what makes UK special. I am a firm believer in Coach Cal, and any player who is talented and has the character and the mental toughness to chase his dreams should want to play for my mentor and coach.”
Coach Cal says an immediate national search will begin for Payne’s replacement.
“This is a bittersweet day for us at Kentucky,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “Kenny has been an extremely important part of our success here. His relationship with our players is second to none. He coaches them and challenges them as hard as anyone, but they respect him, they listen to him and they learn from him because they know he cares. As a basketball coach and a teacher, he could run any program in the country. Simply, he’s as good as they get.
“I was disappointed that Kenny didn’t get that chance, but this is one of those opportunities Kenny had to look at, and I fully support his decision to join Tom Thibodeau’s staff. Kenny’s approach with his players, his knowledge of and his experience in the game, and his work ethic will serve him well on the professional level. I have high expectations for him in the NBA. For Julius Randle and Kevin Knox, it will be immediate, but as other players get to know and trust him, they’ll know he’s about one thing: their improvement and their success. I have no doubt that Kenny is going to be a great asset to Coach Thibodeau’s staff.
“I’ve had seven or eight different staffs in my career and it’s always been based on coaches getting an opportunity to chase their dreams. My hope is I have an opportunity to have seven more staffs.”
Payne has just finished his 10th season with the Cats. He was promoted to associate head coach in May of 2014 after serving his first four seasons as an assistant coach. Prior to his arrival at UK he served as an assistant at Oregon for six seasons.
Payne has been nationally recognized for his work with Kentucky’s big men — and rightfully so — but he’s played an instrumental role in UK’s success with players of all different positions. Most notably, Payne’s development with Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns helped the Kentucky freshmen go No. 1 overall in their respective drafts with each team advancing to the Final Four.
Payne was also a major part in the development of UK big men Nerlens Noel (sixth in 2013 NBA Draft), Julius Randle (seventh pick in 2014 NBA Draft), Willie Cauley-Stein (sixth in 2015 NBA Draft), Skal Labissière (28th in 2016 NBA Draft), Bam Adebayo (14th in 2017 NBA Draft), Kevin Knox (ninth in 2018 NBA Draft) and PJ Washington (12th in 2019 NBA Draft). He also played important roles in the development of guards De’Aaron Fox (fifth in 2017 NBA Draft), Malik Monk (11th in 2017 NBA Draft), Tyler Herro (13th in 2019 NBA Draft) and Keldon Johnson (29th in 2019 NBA Draft).