Knicks hire former Kentucky associate coach Kenny Payne as assistant

Kenny Payne
Kenny Payne (Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports)

The New York Knicks have hired former University of Kentucky associate head coach Kenny Payne as an assistant coach on Tuesday, the team announced

He is the first hire made by new head coach Tom Thibodeau, who was officially hired by the team last month. 

“I’m thrilled that Kenny has joined my staff as an assistant coach. He has an outstanding ability to forge relationships with players and improve their skills,” Thibodeau said. “He knows what it takes to win and has learned from one of the best coaches there is in John Calipari. Kenny will be a tremendous addition to our organization.”

Payne had been linked heavily with the Knicks for over a week now where he told Kentucky.com that, “it’s not an easy decision.”

The 53-year-old had been an assistant under John Calipari at Kentucky since 2010 where he specialized in working and developing big men.

Most notably, he helped Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns work their way up in Lexington to No. 1 overall picks at the NBA Draft in 2012 and 2015. He also boasts resumes with notable NBA big men such as Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Skal Labissiere, Bam Adebayo, and PJ Washington.

Another two of his proteges — Kevin Knox and Julius Randle — are already waiting for him in New York as members of the Knicks. 

There will be a hope that Payne can help Knox meet his full potential after a couple of slow NBA seasons after being picked ninth overall in 2018.

One of his most intriguing new projects at Madison Square Garden, though, will be Knicks’ center Mitchell Robinson, who has shown flashes of becoming one of the NBA’s more dominant centers. 

Last season, the 22-year-old led the league in shooting percentage at 74.2% while averaging 9.7 points, seven rebounds, and two blocks per game despite playing an average of just 23 minutes per night.

“I want to thank John Calipari, Eli Capilouto (President, University of Kentucky), Mitch Barnhart (Athletics Director), and the University of Kentucky for allowing me to be a part of a special program for the last 10 years that truly epitomizes winning basketball. I am a better coach and leader of young men today because of my time in Lexington under the legendary Coach Cal,” Payne said. “I now take the next step in my basketball journey and fulfill my dream of coaching in the NBA. I’m beyond grateful and excited for the chance to work for such a prestigious organization as the New York Knicks under the leadership of Leon Rose, Scott Perry, William Wesley, and Tom Thibodeau, who I have such great admiration and respect for.”