Arkansas’ John Calipari hires Kenny Payne as an assistant after duo previously worked together at Kentucky


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USATSI

Former Louisville head coach and longtime Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne is joining the Arkansas basketball staff as associate head coach, John Calipari announced Thursday. Payne, 57, spent the past two seasons as a rival to Calipari in the Bluegrass State, but the two won a national championship together at UK in 2012.

Payne is Calipari’s first official staff hire since he was introduced as the program’s new leader last week. Payne was by Calipari’s side for 11 of Calipari’s 15 seasons at Kentucky, helping to recruit a slew of top talents for the Wildcats during the program’s one-and-done era.

Since then Payne’s reputation has taken a hit. Louisville fired Payne, a former Cardinals player, at the end of the 2023-24 campaign after a 12-52 mark in two seasons. The dismal two-year tenure marked a brutal stretch for a proud program and proved that Payne isn’t head coach material. But Payne was a driving force behind some of Calipari’s Kentucky’s greatest triumphs at Kentucky, and Calipari is putting a lot of stock in those past successes by offering Payne a prominent staff role so shortly after the Louisville fiasco.

Payne was an assistant for the New York Knicks from 2020-22, meaning the 2019-20 season was the last time Calipari and Payne worked together. Since then the arrival of mass transfers, NIL payment and conference realignment have changed the face of college basketball, leading some to believe Calipari could benefit from an infusion of youth around him on the bench.

While that could still happen as Calipari fills out his Arkansas staff, the early signs suggest Calipari is doubling down on what’s familiar as he begins the next chapter in his Hall of Fame coaching career.



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