Kenny Payne has been clear in his comments since being named the University of Louisville’s head men’s basketball coach in March: He can’t do this alone.
“We need everybody,” Payne said.
Everybody means everybody – he needs support from players, staff, fans, the university, the state. Payne, who is the first Black head men’s basketball coach in program history, understands there are high expectations for the program, but he also wants people to know that winning games is just part of the goal for the team and players.
“I want to win the game of life for them,” he said. “If they win the game of life, the basketball games will follow.”
To start, Payne set to work assembling a roster of perhaps his most essential helpers – his stable of assistant coaches.
First came Nolan Smith, former assistant coach at Duke. Then Danny Manning, most recently interim head coach at Maryland, joined the squad. Finally, the core coaching team was rounded out with Josh Jamieson, former executive director for men’s basketball at Oregon. Former Cardinals Milt Wagner and Reece Gaines are also part of the staff. Building that support system was critical, Payne said.
“For one, I had to get people who are good people. People who are loving men,” Payne said. “Most of the time people that are fathers who understand young people, right, wrong or indifferent. Nolan and Danny and Josh and Milt and Reece, you go down the list and all these people are people that have experience not just in the sport, but they are good people, they are good fathers. And that’s important because we’re dealing with other people’s kids.”
Since their hiring, the coaches began working to build out the Cardinals roster and hype up the team, the fan base and the community. Some, like Manning and Jamieson, are new to Louisville. Others, like Smith, son of Cardinal 1980 NCAA champion Derek Smith, knew what was awaiting the coaches when they joined the staff.
“This is a Cardinals town,” Smith said. “They love their basketball. They love their players. They love us coaches, and we’re excited to be a part of this and give them what they deserve.”
What those fans deserve and what they expect is a team that gives maximum effort, Jamieson said.
“Our whole focus leading into the season will be in essence trying to find what potential resides in each individual and then try to maximize that,” he said. “So, in my opinion, the fans should expect a team that plays hard, that plays with and for each other and demonstrates a very high level of effort.”
Getting players to play for each other and building connections is where Payne excels, Manning said.
“He and our staff will be measured on wins and losses, as kind of a quick snapshot, but the big picture, the impact that he’s going to have on the lives of these young men, will last forever,” Manning said. “And that’s what I’m most excited about – being a part of helping these young guys develop on and off the court.”
When the season begins with a game against also local Bellarmine University Nov. 9, the team will have plenty of eyes on them. Payne and his coaches know that fans and the community are eager to see Louisville Basketball return to prominence, but they caution patience.
They’re trying to rebuild a culture of doing right and of young people succeeding on the court and in life. And that takes time.
“At times it’s going to look disorganized or disjointed, but the longer we go the better we’re going to be at it,” Payne said. “We need the support not just when it’s great, but we need the support of the transformation of it becoming great.”
Patience may be a message that Cardinals fans have heard before, but the community can take what Payne says to heart, Jamieson said.
“Kenny is one who backs up whatever it is that he says with action.”
To be successful, a coaching staff has to jell as much as the players do. UofL Magazine wanted to see how in sync Kenny Payne and his assistant coaches are in a preseason round of random superlatives.
Who is the best dresser?
Kenny Payne (KP): Josh. No — Danny Manning.
Josh Jamieson (JJ): I would guess that would be Nolan. Then probably Danny, but it could be the other way around.
Danny Manning (DM): To be determined. We’ll see how that goes.
Nolan Smith (NS): I’m going to go with Danny. He’s the OG. He’s probably got some smooth old style.
Who will be the most vocal on the sidelines?
KP: Probably me. And Josh Jamieson is a yeller.
JJ: Probably either Nolan or myself.
DM: KP will be the most vocal. I’m following KP’s lead.
NS: Probably myself.
Who would you NOT want to go up against in a shooting contest?
KP: I would not want to go up against Josh.
JJ: Any of them. You’ve got three guys that were first-round draft picks in the NBA.
DM: Nolan, because he talks. It’s just constant chatter, a barrage of highenergy communication.
NS: Stepping outside this group, I’d say Milt Wagner.
Who would you want on your team in a 2-on-2 game?
KP: I would take Danny. The old guys against the younger guys.
JJ: I want KP. I just want to see what he’s got left.
DM: Nolan, because he’s the most active and the youngest.
NS: Danny. If I can put him somewhere around the basket, I can throw it high and he knows what to do with it from there.
Who brings the best hype music?
KP: Definitely Nolan Smith
JJ: Nolan. He knows what’s going on these days. I’m still listening to Don McLean.
DM: Nolan. He’s a little bit more in touch with what these guys are into.
NS: Either myself or Josh. He probably has some different types of music that I know the players would get hyped to.
Who tells the best stories from their basketball days?
KP: I think probably Danny.
JJ: Nolan, because he just makes stuff up all the time.
DM: Nolan tells the best stories.
NS: I’d say myself.
Who is the best cook?
KP: Oof, I wouldn’t feel confident eating any of their food.
JJ: No idea on that one.
DM: I don’t know. I do know in the process of elimination it’s not me.
NS: It’s definitely not me. I bet KP can throw down on the grill.