Kenny Payne arrives in Louisville, ready to tackle ‘unbelievable opportunity’
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Kenny Payne arrived in Louisville just past 5 p.m. Thursday afternoon. The private plane that picked him up in New York touching down at Bowman Field.
Payne descended the stairs and was immediately greeted by former UofL head coach Denny Crum and former UofL player and assistant coach Wade Houston.
“It feels great, surreal, unbelievable opportunity to connect with everybody to bring this team back where it needs to be. It’s gonna be hard but I’m not doing it by myself, I got an army behind me,” Payne said.
That army includes his former teammates.
Three of them, Robbie Valentine, Milt Wagner and Chris West, all members of the 1986 National Championship team, along with Wiley Brown, a starter on the 1980 National Champs, met for lunch at Bearno’s by the Bridge on Main Street.
They are excited for what the Payne hire will mean for the program and the city.
“Wade Houston was the first African American player at Louisville, Kenny being the first African American coach at Louisville, Wade recruited Kenny to Louisville and when you put all those dots together, success,” Valentine said.
“This is important,” Brown added. “This is like when Barack Obama became President, it really is, because just Barack Obama he prepared himself, and Kenny Payne has prepared himself for this job. He’s not only the first black coach, but he prepared himself to earn this position, so it’s going to tell all the young little boys, little girls, whatever, that, you know, anything is possible.”
West is a Louisville native and Manual High grad.
“You know the impact that this can have on the city, to bring hope. It can bring more people pushing and striving to do better and the city definitely needs it,” West said.
Like Payne, Wagner worked for John Calipari. Wagner was the director of operations at Memphis. Payne spent 10 seasons as an assistant under Calipari at Kentucky.
“Happy for the city, happy for Kenny,” Wagner said. “I think it’s well deserved, he’s paid his dues, and you got one of us as the head coach. A guy that we played with, won a National Championship with, and we know he’s going to do a great job here, so we’re just excited.”
Wagner’s son Dajuan, played for Calipari at Memphis. His grandson, Dajuan’s son, DJ, is the top player in the Class of 2023.
Will Payne’s hiring reconnect the Camden Connection?
“Well we’ll see, like I said, let’s just announce Kenny tomorrow and then we’ll go from three, but you know, of course, it helps, it definitely helps.,” Wagner said. “Kenny has been part of the family since college.”
Payne will be officially announced as the Cards new head coach at 10 a.m. on Friday at the KFC Yum! Center.
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