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Men's Basketball

Kenny Payne Talks About Next Season’s Game Against Kentucky, John Calipari

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Photo via Michael C. Johnson

Since taking the job at Louisville, Kenny Payne has rejuvenated the Cardinal fanbase with a (so far) underserved belief that they are returning to the top of college basketball, which in turn has somewhat resurrected the in-state rivalry.

In an interview with Jon Rothstein on Thursday, Payne opened up about his new job and talked about his relationship with John Calipari, the UK-UofL rivalry, and potential NCAA sanctions.

Let’s take a closer look at what was said.

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On John Calipari

John Calipari and Kenny Payne worked together for 11 seasons in Lexington and developed a close relationship. In today’s interview, Payne expressed his love and appreciation for Cal, calling him a friend, a mentor, and a person that he has learned so much from.

Unsurprisingly, Payne spoke to his mentor when considering the job and provided Cal’s reaction to the job offer, saying, “Cal was probably one of the first people to say, ‘Kenny it is an unbelievable job, it has great tradition, it has great facilities, it’s a basketball school. It’s your home. You have to seriously consider it and I hope you take it for you and for that community.’”

This shows that Calipari truly cares about Payne and the state of Kentucky as a whole. It is a big opportunity for Payne, and it is important for both the state’s economy and college basketball that Louisville and Kentucky perform well.

Payne also went on to open up about how Calipari influenced his players first philosophy. “Cal was the first real coach that I was around, that said, ‘let’s not as coaches worry about ourselves, let’s put these kids first. What can we do that will make their life easier? What can we do to make their job easier, and understand their success is in our hands?’ and I live by that,” Payne said.

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Kentucky-Louisville Rivalry Game

Given Calipari and Payne’s good relationship, the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry is set to look much different, with Payne even admitting so, saying, “It won’t be the negative hatred of John Calipari for me. It will be a game in that, I am going to try to do everything in my power to help my team win, and he’s going to do the same. I hope I win by 1, but we’ll see how that goes.”

I am sure the Big Blue Nation hopes the Cats win by 90, and Payne did say something to show that Calipari doesn’t want to take it easy on his longtime assistant, “Cal called me after he did a speech and he said ‘Kenny I gotta tell you what I said in this group, There will be one day a year when I am gonna try to beat Kenny Payne’s head in’”.

While the rivalry looks to be competitive once again, there no longer seems to be the negative feelings amongst the coaching staffs that there once was when Rick Pitino coached at Louisville.

Pending NCAA Investigation and Potential Sanctions

Over the last decade, Louisville has received a notice of allegations from the NCAA, seemingly on an annual basis. The most recent of which was was amended in 2021 and contains one Level I charge and six Level II charges, with some dating back to 2017.

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With that said, before taking the job, Payne talked with Louisville athletic director, Josh Heird, about the worst-case scenario.

“Without going into much detail because the case is still pending, when I heard what he said and I listened to it. Think about this, I’m with the New York Knicks. I have a great job, not a good job, a great job with the New York Knicks. If there was something really there to give me pause, I would have never taken the job. I took the job knowing feeling good about whatever they give us, is not going to be so severe that it destroys our program,” Payne said.

After clearing house and a lack of winning as a result, they hope the NCAA will give a softened blow when (if ever) they make a ruling, and Louisville seems confident that will happen.


Listen to the entirety of the interview here.

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BB Recruiting

No. 1 Point Guard Robert Dillingham Chooses Kentucky

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UK Athletics

The Kentucky Wildcats just added a significant piece to their 2023 recruiting class, No. 1 point guard Robert Dillingham, choosing Kentucky over Auburn, Louisville, and USC.

Back in December, Dillingham had originally elected to stay home and committed to NC State. This came as a last-minute surprise, as Dillingham held seven 247 Sports Crystal Ball predictions to Kentucky just 48 hours prior to his decision.

However, Dillingham decommitted from NC State back in March after the school received NCAA violations. Upon reopening his recruitment, UK assistant coach Chin Coleman told Dillingham, “I’m not gonna lose this time,” and he held true to his word.

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In Dillingham, Kentucky is getting an extremely talented player that many have started to compare to long-time No. 1 recruit DJ Wagner, who Dillingham has even expressed interest in playing alongside.

Despite his small 6-foot-1, 165-pound frame, Dillingham is the perfect modern point guard, possessing elite speed, finishing ability, ball-handling skills, and perimeter shooting. Collectively, these attributes make Dillingham the dangerous offensive weapon that he is and gives him the confidence to score at all three levels.

With that said, Dillingham does not rely on his scoring ability to make an impact, as he is also willing to make the extra pass and put his teammates in positions to succeed.

In addition to his electric style of play, Dillingham possesses an alpha mentality and toughness. However, Dillingham does need to build on his frame and improve on the defensive end, as he can lose focus at times.

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Dillingham joins Reed Sheppard to give the Kentucky two 5-star recruits and moves the Wildcats’ recruiting class into third place in the 247 Sports rankings, behind Duke and North Carolina.

If you are unfamiliar with Dillingham and his playstyle, watch this breakdown and get up to speed on the most recent Wildcat commit.

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Men's Basketball

Former Kentucky Strength Coach Turns Heel and Says “Go Cards”

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UK Athletics

Back in late April, it was announced that the men’s Kentucky basketball program and former strength coach Rob Harris had parted ways.

Harris had been with the program for eight seasons and while no reason was ever officially given for his departure, it can be attributed to a combination of recent lower-body injuries, receiving a technical foul for a scuffle at Tennessee back in February, and a public video of him having an outburst at his daughter’s basketball game.

While Harris is looking for a new position, Louisville is looking for a new strength and conditioning coach. Could the two join forces against a common enemy, being Kentucky?

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It certainly looks like Harris would be on board. On Wednesday afternoon, Harris made a heel move and tweeted his support of Kenny Payne and the Louisville Cardinals.

If Harris does join the staff, it will be another another piece to reviatlize the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry.

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BB Recruiting

Kentucky Expressing Interest in 2024 Top 100 In-State Recruit, Travis Perry

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In the 2023 class, John Calipari has already secured a commitment from Reed Sheppard, the best prospect in the state of Kentucky and ranked top-25 nationally.

Looking ahead to the 2024 class, Calipari is already showing interest in Lyon County’s Travis Perry, who is ranked as a top-two prospect in the state and ranked in the top 100 nationally.

This past weekend, Calipari was in attendance for the Titans-Rockets Classic to see Xavier Booker – who has made an astronomical jump in the latest recruiting rankings – and was also given the opportunity to watch Perry.

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The Lyon County product must have left a lasting impression as Travis’s father, Ryan Perry, says that Calipari has been in contact “quite a bit” this week. On top of that, Travis and his parents – who are Kentucky graduates and admitted Wildcat fans – are planning a visit to Kentucky this weekend to talk with Calipari and tour the campus.

To those who follow Kentucky high school basketball Perry’s name is very recognizable. Playing varsity since his seventh-grade year – averaging 20.6 points per game that season – Perry has scored 3,189 career points and is well on his way to breaking the state record of 4,337 points, held by “King” Kelly Coleman.

What is Perry’s motivation? “I’m just trying to get one more point than the other team, because I gotta ride home with my dad. And that’s the coach, and I don’t want to have to listen to him complain the whole way,” Perry told Ben Roberts of the Herald-Leader.

Perry currently holds offers from Creighton, Ole Miss, Iowa, and Purdue among others but expect his recruitment to continue heating up. Since last weekend’s event, Juwan Howard and Michigan have also expressed interest.

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Check out Perry’s highlights as he went head-to-head with Sheppard and North Laurel in last summer’s Titans-Rockets Classic.

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