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Payne Played Instrumental Role in Curry, Traynor's Return to Louisville

The hiring of new head coach Kenny Payne played a major role in the front court duo coming back to play for the Cardinals.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Not long after the Louisville men's basketball program's tumultuous 2021-22 season ended, roster transformation began. The Cardinals saw their fair share of players enter the transfer portal in the coming weeks, which was to be expected considering the university had mutually parted way with head coach Chris Mack halfway through the season.

But on the other hand, Louisville did get some quality players to re-up their commitment and return for another season. Front court duo Sydney Curry and J.J. Traynor are among the six returners for the 2022-23 season.

Curry admits that, following Louisville's season-ending loss to Virginia in the ACC Tournament, he was already leaning towards returning because of the "sour feeling" he had when the season ended. But when Kenny Payne was hired as the head coach on Mar. 18, it sped up the process for him, and he announced he would be returning less than two weeks later.

"He coached a lot of great players," Curry told Louisville Report at the Louisville Legends Future Camp. "I talked with him for over two hours, talking about how to develop my game, and what he sees for the team and just everything in general as a coach. It fell right in line with things I wanted to do.

A week and a half later after Curry announced he would be returning, Traynor also did the same. Unlike Curry, Traynor said he had some doubts about returning prior to Payne's hiring. But once he joined the fold, and had a chance to talk to his new head coach, he knew that coming back was the right choice.

"Just having Kenny Payne, honestly," Traynor said when asked what went into his decision to come back. "Him being there, I've known him for a while having that relationship, and talking to him. He really motivated me, and told me what was going on. I just couldn't say no, I had to come back and stay home."

For both Curry and Traynor, Payne's reputation as a post player developer was part of what fueled both of their decisions to cone back and play for him.

"His development is unlike any other, no matter what position they play me at this year," Traynor said. "We got (assistant coaches) Nolan (Smith) and Danny (Manning), and we're gonna be good."

Louisville has six players in total returning from last season, with El Ellis, Mike James, Jae'Lyn Withers and Roosevelt Wheeler joining Curry and Traynor. Payne has also added 2022 prospects Devin Ree and Kamari Lands, as well as former Tennessee big man Brandon Huntley-Hatfield to the fold.

The Cardinals still have four more open scholarships for next year, but so far, Curry likes what he sees out of the current roster.

"I feel very confident with the guys we have now," he said. "I feel like we can be a very good team. Just laying the foundation, me being in my senior year. I'm gonna go out the right way."

Curry averaged 7.1 points and 4.4 rebounds per game this past season, finishing fifth on the team in scoring and third in rebounding. The 6-foot-8, 252 pound JUCO transfer averaged 17.6 and 9.0 in the final five games of the season.

Traynor had a productive freshman season in 2020-21, averaging 3.9 points and 2.0 rebounds per game with a team-high 11 blocks. The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Bardstown, Ky. native only totaled 16 points and 14 rebounds in 10 games this past season as a sophomore, but was able to find some playing time down the stretch.

(Photo of Sydney Curry: Brad Penner - USA TODAY Sports

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