It’s official. Kenny Payne has accepted a job with the New York Knicks as an assistant coach, ending his 10-year run in Lexington.
“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 in a press release. “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.”
Since arriving at Kentucky in 2010-11, Payne has been a force for Kentucky basketball in recruiting and developing players into future pros. Among the Wildcats he’s recruited and helped grow into NBA stars include Anthony Davis, Julius Randle, Devin Booker, Jamal Murray, De’Aaron Fox, PJ Washington and Bam Adebayo among others.
Needless to say, this is a bittersweet moment for Kentucky head coach John Calipari.
“This is a bittersweet day for us at Kentucky,” Calipari said in a press release. “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.”
Best of luck to Payne in his future endeavors.