Report: Knicks assistant Kenny Payne emerges as Louisville primary target

The New York Knicks could be losing a top assistant coach for the second straight season.

Kenny Payne could be next after Mike Woodson left midway last season to coach his alma mater, Indiana University. The Louisville Cardinals have reportedly narrowed down their list with Payne emerging as the top candidate to replace Chris Mack.

According to Sports Illustrated’s Pat Forde, Payne could be introduced as the new coach of the Cardinals as soon as Thursday if talks between the two camps progress over the next 24 hours. But the report noted that there is no job offer yet.

Payne was part of the Cardinals’ NCAA championship run in 1986. He has the backing of the Louisville black community and has emerged as the favorite in all three editions of the WDRB U of L Coaching Hot Board. He could also make history as the first black coach of the program.

Payne is in his second season with the Knicks after spending a decade with Kentucky under John Calipari, where he shaped his reputation as one of the top college recruiters and a big man’s coach. Karl-Anthony Towns and Anthony Davis credited Payne’s mentoring in their development to become the top overall pick of their NBA Draft class. Miami Heat’s All-Star center Bam Adebayo, current Knicks forward Julius Randle, and other ex-Kentucky players in the NBA also swore by him.

In January, New York coach Tom Thibodeau gave Payne a ringing endorsement for the Louisville job.

“I think [Payne] has great comfort in the college game because of the great success that they had at Kentucky,” Thibodeau said. “I think for him, the Louisville job is obviously appealing because it’s his alma mater.”

After playing as a freshman reserve during the Cardinals’ national title run, Payne grew into a double-digit scorer in his junior and senior years and left the program as part of the 1,000-point club. Philadelphia 76ers selected him in the first round of the NBA Draft in 1989.

Payne played four seasons averaging 3.5 points and 1.2 rebounds in the NBA before going overseas with stops in Italy, Japan, Brazil, Philippines, Cyprus, China, Argentina, and Australia. After his playing career was over, he worked as an assistant coach for the University of Oregon from 2004 to 2009 before joining the Wildcats.

“He’s come into the league. He played in the league,” Thibodeau said. “And obviously having been in college, he studies the game, great with players. But he’s fit in seamlessly.”

“He’d be ideal for [Louisville]. “He’s strong on both sides of the ball. He’s strong with individual development. And he’s been around. He brings a lot of experience to any situation that he goes.”

Payne was also linked to Georgia, who went with Mike White from Florida to replace Tom Crean. Missouri is the other SEC school that will reportedly look at the Knicks assistant coach.

Last season, Payne received strong interest from De Paul. But he opted to stay with the Knicks. This time, if the Cardinals pressed their bid, Payne might have a hard time turning his back on his alma mater.

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