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Former Kentucky head coach John Calipari hires Kenny Payne to join Arkansas staff

Kenny Payne talks to guard Charles Matthews on the sidelines during the UK vs. Mississippi State mens basketball game on Jan. 20, 2015, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Taylor Pence | Staff

Former Kentucky men’s basketball head coach John Calipari hired former Louisville head coach and Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne to his coaching staff at Arkansas.

Payne was an assistant coach at Kentucky from 2010-14 before being promoted to associate head coach from 2014-2020.

Kentucky head coach John Calipari commands players during a timeout during the Kentucky vs. Tennessee mens’s basketball game on Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky lost 103-92. Photo by Isaiah Pinto | Staff

He departed Kentucky when he was offered an assistant coaching position with the New York Knicks of the NBA, a league he had personally played in before retiring.

He would remain in New York until 2022 when his alma mater, the Louisville Cardinals, came calling with an opportunity to be the next head coach of the program.

Accepting the position, many expected it to be a home run hire with Calipari endorsing Payne despite the two now being rivals.

A home run it would not be, however, as Payne amassed a 12-52 overall record, going 4-28 in year one and 8-24 in year two. Louisville athletic director Josh Heird was given little choice but to part ways with Payne, hiring Charleston’s Pat Kelsey in the offseason.

While in Louisville, Payne and the Cardinals were defeated twice in blowout fashion by the Wildcats and Calipari.

First, in 2022, Kentucky won 86-63 inside Rupp Arena. The following year the Cardinals welcomed the Cats into the KFC Yum! Center and were once again soundly defeated 95-76.

With Calipari departing Kentucky in the offseason following yet another NCAA Tournament disappointment, he took the head coaching job at Arkansas and, while he retained much of his coaching staff, found an opening for his old associate.

Reuniting for the first time since the start of the decade, Payne and Calipari will hope to find success in year one in Fayetteville with former Kentucky big man Zvonimir Ivišić joining them already.

Kentucky and Arkansas are likely to face off in the regular season of the 2024-25 season, though an official confirmation or date has yet to be announced.

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