Between Wednesday’s late game and Thanksgiving, this fell through the cracks, but ESPN has a great profile of Kenny Payne that will make you appreciate Kentucky’s big man guru even more. Justin Verrier describes how Payne helped develop Karl Towns and Anthony Davis into two of the best big men in the NBA in part by starting a friendly rivalry between them dating back to Karl’s freshman year at UK. According to Verrier, when Payne caught Karl trash talking about wanting to go up against Anthony and the rest of the Olympic team, he whipped out his phone and called Anthony to tell him, sowing the seeds to one of the NBA’s best burgeoning rivalries.
“For over two months, even during the season, Anthony would call me at least three times a week [and say], ‘I can’t wait to play against Karl. I’m going to demolish him,'” Payne said.
Anthony got the best of Karl on Wednesday night, scoring 45 points to Karl’s 9, but knowing Karl, that just gives him more fuel for the next meeting. Reading how Payne figured out how to get through to Karl and convince him to stop hitting threes and dominate in the paint shows you just how brilliant of a coach he is.
But Towns, a straight-A student, said his inquisitive nature would sometimes lead to questions about the plan.
“One of the first things I had to learn was, the kid is highly intelligent and he loves to debate and loves to analyze and talk through,” Payne said. “So I had to tell him, ‘Look, Karl. You’re smarter than me. I get it. You’re smarter than me. But if you ever question what we’re doing with you to help you get better, we’ll just go to the treadmill and run your questions out.’
“From that day on, he never questioned anything. He came in and was like a sponge.”
Kenny’s primed to make the move to the head coaching ranks, but selfishly, I hope he sticks around Lexington for a long, long time. I have a feeling he’s one of those people we won’t fully appreciate until he’s gone. Do yourself a favor and check out the rest of the profile over at The Worldwide Leader.