Kenny Payne is headed to the New York Knicks.
According to a report by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Payne has accepted a job with the Knicks to join Tom Thibodeau’s staff as an assistant.
The New York Knicks have hired Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne as an assistant coach, sources tell ESPN. Payne is the first formal addition to new coach Tom Thibodeau’s staff with the Knicks.
— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) August 11, 2020
The Knicks internally discussed Payne as an option after agreeing to a deal with Thibodeau back in July. A formal offer was put on the table this past week.
“All I can say is it’s not an easy decision,” Payne said in an interview with Herald-Leader’s Jerry Tipton. “And, hopefully, it gets resolved one way or the other here soon.”
At the time, Payne said it would be “hard to even fathom leaving” Lexington.
“But I have a great job for a lot of different reasons,” he said. “And all I can tell you is that I’ve been blessed to be able to be in a position to help a lot of people. It’s more than just basketball with me when you’re in a position to help families. … That is a unique situation. It’s hard to even fathom leaving Kentucky when you’re in a position like I’m in.”
Now, John Calipari will have to replace his top assistant at Kentucky.
UPDATE (10:07 am) — Kentucky makes it Official
The University of Kentucky announced Payne will in fact leave Kentucky after a decade in Lexington.
“This is a bittersweet day for us at Kentucky,” UK head coach John Calipari said. “Kenny has been an extremely important part of our success here. His relationship with our players is second to none. He coaches them and challenges them as hard as anyone, but they respect him, they listen to him and they learn from him because they know he cares. As a basketball coach and a teacher, he could run any program in the country. Simply, he’s as good as they get.
“I was disappointed that Kenny didn’t get that chance, but this is one of those opportunities Kenny had to look at, and I fully support his decision to join Tom Thibodeau’s staff. Kenny’s approach with his players, his knowledge of and his experience in the game, and his work ethic will serve him well on the professional level. I have high expectations for him in the NBA. For Julius Randle and Kevin Knox, it will be immediate, but as other players get to know and trust him, they’ll know he’s about one thing: their improvement and their success. I have no doubt that Kenny is going to be a great asset to Coach Thibodeau’s staff.
“I’ve had seven or eight different staffs in my career and it’s always been based on coaches getting an opportunity to chase their dreams. My hope is I have an opportunity to have seven more staffs.”
Payne thanked UK administrators, Calipari and the BBN for supporting him. He also said that leaving UK is one of the hardest things he’s ever done.
“First of all, I want to thank Dr. Eli Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and Coach Cal for the unbelievable opportunity I’ve had at Kentucky for the last 10 years,” Payne said. “I’ve been blessed to not only coach at the greatest program in college basketball but to be in a position to help young men grow and develop and to play a part in their families’ lives. They’ve been 10 of the most rewarding years of my life, and I’ll cherish my time in Lexington for the rest of my career.
“This decision wasn’t easy for me. I have a great job at Kentucky, and to think about leaving has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I have also been offered an incredible opportunity with the New York Knicks and a chance to help restore what I believe should be the premier organization in the NBA.
“Big Blue Nation, thank you for embracing me and treating me and my family with respect. You are truly the best fans in college basketball and a major ingredient to what makes UK special. I am a firm believer in Coach Cal, and any player who is talented and has the character and the mental toughness to chase his dreams should want to play for my mentor and coach.”
Once a Wildcat, always a Wildcat pic.twitter.com/XfGTvcXLTI
— Kentucky Basketball (@KentuckyMBB) August 11, 2020