House of Payne: Knicks assistant Kenny Payne prepared his son for life without him in Kentucky

New York Knicks, Kenny Payne

Kenny Payne left not only his heart at Kentucky but also his son when he jumped on the opportunity to become one of Tom Thibodeau‘s assistant coaches in the New York Knicks.

Kenny will no longer be around when his son, Zan Payne, makes his college debut next season for the University of Kentucky Wildcats.

“It was hard at first because he’s always been here right by my side,” Zan told Empire Sports Media during his media availability on Wednesday. “Everybody in my family, we were all happy for him. We were happy he’s going to work for the New York Knicks. That was — one of his dream jobs was working in the NBA, so we were all happy for him.”

Perhaps it’s time for Zan to spread his wings like what his father has decided to do next in his coaching career. And so far, Zan is adjusting to his college life sans his father.

“It’s definitely different not having him around. The practice is way different. But we’re still doing good. We’re all on track. I still talk to him every day,” Zan said.

“My dad used to like, I guess, yell at everybody and make us run a lot. If you knew him, he’s hard on everybody. He likes things the way he wants it. It’s definitely different in that way.”

Under Kenny’s guidance, Zan grew up as a local basketball star in Lexington.

Zan was a first-team All-City and All-Region selection as a junior and senior at Lexington Catholic High School. His 1,282 points were the 14th most in program history. He also finished as the school’s fourth-leading rebounder with 934 career boards.

Zan’s initial success can be traced to Kenny’s knack for player development.

“He influences [my game] a lot. Every day when I was little, we used to work out together, like every single day. He would teach me everything that he would do. When he left, it was all good because he went to go work with the New York Knicks, obviously,” Zan said.

Kenny’s arrival in New York should augur well for the Knicks’ young core, especially the likes of former Wildcats Kevin Knox and Julius Randle. While Zan will no longer enjoy Kenny’s presence at Kentucky, he’s excited for his father and what he can bring to the Knicks.

“He’s just never going to give up on any of the guys that are on the team,” Zan told Ian Begley of SNY during the media roundtable.

“He’s just going to keep working with them until they perfect whatever he wants them to perfect or whatever he needs them to do. He’s just going to keep working until they’re at where they need to be at.”

As for him, Zan said he’s still been getting fatherly and coaching advice from Kenny every now and then. Kenny always reminds him to keep his high motor and play hard at all times, a signature trait that has become synonymous with Payne, and to rest his knees and work on his conditioning.

Zan, a 6-foot-4 forward, is joining a star-studded Wildcats team as a walk-on. While he’s eager to prove that he can step out of his father’s large shadow in Kentucky, he wants to do it the right way.

“In high school, I was the captain of the team. The coach always wanted me just to go score and stuff like that. But, here, I’m just probably going to play like defense. Go out there and play hard and play to win. Just do what the game tells me to do. That’s what coach always tells me, Coach Cal (John Calipari). Just do what the game tells you to do,” Zan said.

Kenny must have left his heart and his son in Kentucky, but he’s also left him with the best preparation only one can get from the “House of Payne.”

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