Calipari would recommend Kenny Payne as his successor in the UK

(AP Photo/Bill Feig)

When associate head coach Kenny Payne left for a Tom Thibodeau staff position with the New York Knicks on Tuesday, Kentucky manager John Calipari called him “bittersweet”, complaining that Payne hadn’t yet received an opportunity. as a college-level coach.

“He could run any program in the country,” Calipari said in a statement. “I was disappointed that Kenny didn’t get this chance.”

During a conference call on Wednesday, Calipari said he would recommend Payne to be his successor in the UK.

“I just wanted to make sure … Kenny realizes he’s leaving a big situation here,” Calipari said, according to the New York Post. “He paid a lot of money here, the highest paid in college basketball. Now all of a sudden he’s coming to the Knicks, and it’s going to be a build. But, ‘here are his strengths, how are you going to use him?’ And Thibs was perfect. He went from point to point. He knew why he wanted him on his staff. “

Calipari doesn’t seem to hang up anytime soon. He signed a “lifetime” contract with the school last spring worth $ 86 million over 10 years. That didn’t stop UK fans from speculating on his eventual successor, a list that included Chris Beard (Texas Tech), former British assistant Billy Donovan (Oklahoma City Thunder), Brad Stevens (Boston Celtics) and Chris Holtmann ( native of Nicholasville). State of Ohio).

Payne, whose name had been linked to coaching pursuits at his alma mater, Louisville, and homestate school, Mississippi State, in recent years, has spent a total of 10 years on Calipari’s staff as an assistant, the last six as associate head coach.

“I want the Knicks to win, and I want the Knicks to compete for a championship, and I want the Knicks to win a championship, okay?” Calipari said Wednesday. “My main concern in this is Kenny Payne; he’s like my brother.”

Payne, who is expected to be replaced by another longtime Calipari confidant in Indiana assistant Bruiser Flint, will be reuniting with former Wildcats Julius Randle and Kevin Knox.

“What I’m happy about the two who know him well, Julius and Kevin, I think you will see a change for the better,” said Calipari. “Obviously Julius did well, but now I’m saying the next step forward. And Kevin is what I told you would happen, it would take a year or two to move forward because of his age … help those two. “.