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Louisville Officially Hires Kenny Payne as Men’s Basketball Head Coach

Payne was a four year player for the Cardinals who helped win the 1986 championship, and made a name for himself as one of the top assistants in college basketball at Kentucky.
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It’s official.

Friday morning, the University of Louisville Athletic Association’s Board of Directors formally approved former New York Knicks and University of Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne to be the next head coach of the men’s basketball program.

“As I stated when we began this process in early February, the University of Louisville is a destination job and the strength of our candidate pool proved this out,” interim athletic director Josh Heird said in a release. “After a thorough national search during which we sat down with a number of expectational coaches, it was clear that Kenny Payne was what we need.

"His basketball knowledge, his passion for his student-athletes, his vision for our program and his understanding of what Louisville Basketball means to our city and to our institution, are evident. I am thrilled to welcome Kenny and Michelle, and their children, Alexis and Zan, to the University of Louisville.”

Payne was a four-year player for the Cardinals from 1985 to 1989, helped Louisville win a national championship in 1986, and is a 1,000-point scorer. He becomes the 23rd permanent head coach in program history - just the fourth since 1971 - and the first African American head coach.

He replaces Chris Mack, who UofL mutually parted ways with back on Jan. 26. The Cardinals were 11-9 at the time, and finished the year with a 13-19 overall record - their first losing season since 2000-01. Mack finished his tenure at Louisville with a record of 63-36 in three and half seasons, with just one NCAA Tournament appearance and no wins.

Payne instantly became the presumed frontrunner for the position, and for good reason. On top of his Louisville connections, he had developed a reputation as an elite recruiter and one of the top assistants in all of college basketball while at the University of Kentucky.

Prior to his jump to the Knicks in August of 2020, Payne was voted to the 2020 class of the A STEP UP Assistant Coaches Hall of Fame. Selection criteria includes: respect among colleagues for high moral character and integrity and made significant contributions to the game and/or teams coached.

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Spending ten seasons under head coach John Calipari from 2010 to 2020 - four as an assistant coach and six as the associate head coach - Kentucky had an incredible run of success. The Wildcats posted a 295-74 overall record during his tenure, made four trips to the Final Four and two to the national championship game, including winning it all 2012.

Payne played a significant role in helping bring 40 composite five-stars to Lexington, with their 2013 and 2017 classes each having six. In every one of his ten seasons with the Wildcats, they secured a top-two recruiting class, including five No. 1 classes, according to 247Sports.

Coupled with his underrated abilities as a player developer, the Laurel, Miss. native helped Kentucky establish an extensive pipeline to the NBA. From the 2011 to the 2020 NBA Draft, the Wildcats had 36 draft selections, with 26 coming in the first round, 11 inside the top ten and two No. 1 overall picks.

Before going to Kentucky, Payne also spent five seasons as an assistant coach for the University of Oregon. The Ducks went 84-76 during his tenure in Eugene from 2004 to 2009, including a Pac-10 Tournament title and trip to the Elite Eight in 2007.

After averaging 14.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game as a senior at Louisville, Payne was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers with the No. 19 overall pick of the 1989 NBA Draft. He spent four years with the team, averaging 3.5 points and 1.2 rebounds over the course of his NBA career.

(Photo of Kenny Payne: Mike Weaver - Special to the Courier Journal)

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