Just like John Calipari, Kenny Payne will be able to coach his son at the college level. The longtime UK assistant spoke exclusively with Kentucky Sports Radio about his son, Alexander Payne, walking-on at UK. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound wing was the star of Lexington Catholic’s team before suffering a serious knee injury in his last regular season game in December.
The road to recover has been long for Alexander Payne and he will continue to rehab over the summer and possibly into the fall if need be, but Kenny Payne is happy to have his son on UK’s campus.
Kenny Payne spoke with KSR about his son, his future at Kentucky and even Louisville’s Chris Mack.
Kentucky Sports Radio: On how Alexander Payne ended up playing for you and John Calipari at Kentucky
Kenny Payne: First off he’s a good kid that had an unfortunate injury, a really unfortunate injury. He tore his knee up. I thought he was headed into the right direction before that happened. So, after that the main priority became rehab and having the right surgery and getting the leg strong enough to be able to first play basketball again. When he did it we got with the doctors and my only question was asking if he still wanted to play basketball. He told me that he did.
I was proud of that. It meant he had the fight. The first part of our process was getting him to admit that he still wanted to play and he wanted to play on a big scale. His mother always wanted him to be a part of Kentucky so she could keep her hands on him. I could have gone either way with it. Coach Cal was gracious and really good with the situation which made me feel proud and happy I’m working for a man like that who really cares about me and my son. For (Alexander) it’s an opportunity where nothing will be given to him. I’ll probably be harder on him than anybody. He gets no breaks. He gets no leeway. For him, I want him to fight. It will be similar, and I don’t know how many people know this, but Brad Calipari fights. He fights to earn that respect on that basketball team. You do that with your work ethic. How Alexander handles it will be no different. He will earn everything he gets. I will push him beyond where he thinks he will go.
Hopefully the goal is that he makes Kentucky basketball coaches proud and I’m included in that as a coach. I’m already proud as a father but I want to let him know that I want him to make me proud as a coach and the other coaches as well.
Kentucky Sports Radio: On Alexander’s injury and how he’s doing in rehab
Kenny Payne: It happened in the last regular season game with a few seconds left on the clock. They were down one. He drove the ball and was fouled. The guy went up under him or bumped him and he landed awkwardly and had an injury to his knee. So, it’s been long and hard. He’s done a really good job of doing the rehab to this point. We have to continue to do it to get the leg stronger than it was before. It’s going to take a lot of pain and hard days of fighting through it.
Kentucky Sports Radio: On if he’s ever seen anything like this or been on a staff where two sons have been on the same team
Kenny Payne: I’ve never imagined it. I would listen to Cal talk about what a joy it is to take care of your own son and have him with you everyday. I watch (Calipari) before every pregame speech, when he finishes he kisses his son. It shows a side of what we do and that it has another side. We’re fathers, we’re men and we become examples to the other kids of how a man, a father, a leader should act. From that standpoint I’ve watched Cal deal with it with the way he’s done it. Now I get to be a part of it as well, probably a little meaner, but it’s a blessing for me to watch him.
I get to monitor him and make sure he’s doing what he needs to do. I get to be hard on him, to push him beyond what he thinks he can go because he’s my blood. I’m not one of those fathers that is going to ever be easy on mine. I’m going to be harder on mine because I know this is bigger than basketball. It’s life. And what’s out there in life for these young men is that you have to earn everything you’re going to get. In today’s society our kids are disillusioned or they have a falseness about what they expect to get and what they have to put out to get it. I want my son, like all kids and all the kids we deal with, I want them to know they have to be borderline ready to fight and die for what you want in this life.
Kentucky Sports Radio: On if this sparks a new fire for you and Calipari wanting to win a championship with your kids as players
Kenny Payne: Well, I never thought about that until you just said it. I’ve had conversations with Cal and Cal has had conversations with me but more about building a team and surrounding it with kids that we can win a national championship with. There are times and years where the talent level may be down and now you can’t really have a young group that can really fight and see why they’re there, if that makes sense. They’re so young and they need a year or two, two years to figure it out.
Well, we’ve had conversations about putting together a team that can win a championship and not that we don’t do it every year. Obviously that’s our goal more than I can tell you, but having really thought about it but now that you said it and with my son and Cal’s son, it would be great. It would be a great experience for them. It would be really gratifying for me and Cal, but more importantly for the Big Blue Nation, the fans, the administration, for the kids, their families. To be a part of a special group that wins a national title you’re never forgotten when you do.
Kentucky Sports Radio: On what you would tell fans that think you’re locked in for a few years now that your son is on the team
Kenny Payne: Yeah, it’s a tough question. I think that me being at UK I have a dream job. I work for a great man who’s really, really good to me. I work in a unique institution where basketball is a priority and I love my job at UK. It would be hard, hard for somebody to… I do want to be a head coach. I do want my own program, but they better come correct because I have a really, really unique situation. I don’t say that lightly and I respect it. It’s been a blessing. A blessing to be with kids.
Two days ago I get a text message from Karl-Anthony Towns wishing my wife a happy Mother’s Day. I can go on and on. Devin (Booker), Anthony Davis, I had dinner with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist last week. Bam came in and we went to the Kentucky Derby together. All I can say to you is that you can’t draw up a better scenario than what I’ve lived over my last eight years and I want it to continue to be special as long as I can. If that means I’m in Kentucky another five years, four years, six years, whatever that number is I appreciate and love every single day that I’m on the job.
Kentucky Sports Radio: On Louisville hiring Chris Mack
Kenny Payne: I think they hired a good coach. I think Vince (Tyra) is really happy. The administration is really happy. I think he’ll do a good job. I think he has some obstacles to overcome trying to get that program back to national prominence, which he’s capable of doing. I wished him well. I’m a fan of Louisville and I want those kids, who don’t deserve a lot of this negativity that has happened there. They don’t deserve it. I wished him well.
Obviously I went to school there and won a national championship there. There will always be a special place in my heart for the University of Louisville.