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John Calipari would’ve recommended Kenny Payne to be his successor at UK

Cal is disappointed Payne never got a head coaching job at the college level.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Texas Tech Michael C. Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

When long-time assistant coach Kenny Payne decided to take an assistant job with the New York Knicks, John Calipari called it “bittersweet” and noted it was disappointing that Payne never got a head coaching chance at the college level.

“He could run any program in the country,” Calipari said in a release. “I was disappointed that Kenny didn’t get that chance.”

After a conference call Wednesday, we now know that any program in the country includes Kentucky and that Cal would’ve recommended Payne to be his successor at UK.

“I just wanted to make sure that … Kenny understood he’s leaving a great situation here,” Calipari said, according to the New York Post. “He’s paid a lot of money here, the highest-paid in college basketball. Now all of a sudden, he’s coming to the Knicks, and it’s going to be a build. But, ‘here’s his strengths, how are you going to utilize him?’ And Thibs was on point. He went point-to-point. He knew why he wanted him on his staff.”

It doesn’t seem like Cal will be hanging it up anytime soon considering he signed a “lifetime” contract with Kentucky last spring that was worth $86 million over the next 10 years.

During the past 10 years on Calipari’s staff, Payne has been in the coaching searches for spots at his alma mater, Louisville, and home state school, Mississippi State, but he always stayed with Kentucky.

“I want the Knicks to win, and I want the Knicks to compete for a championship, and I want the Knicks to win a championship, OK?” Calipari said Wednesday. “My overriding concern in this is Kenny Payne; that’s like my brother.”

Now that Payne is headed to the Knicks, he is going to be met with some familiar faces. Former Kentucky stars Kevin Knox and Julius Randle are both currently with the Knicks and Coach Cal believes having Payne will help both of their careers tremendously.

Many have often wondered if Payne would even be considered for the head coaching job once Cal retired, and it appears that Cal would have been in favor of that decision.