LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — He’s part basketball coach, part storyteller, preacher, a guy trying to rally his team and his community. New U of L coach Kenny Payne accepted an offer to speak to a group at St. Stephen’s Baptist Church on Saturday morning.
“I get a lot of requests to do them, but this is my first,” Payne said of the conversation with a group at church. “I thought it was important to do this one because St. Stephen is a place where it’s a staple in the west and I want to be a part of it.”
He’s been billed as the greatest basketball coach in the world, and Payne said one of the biggest surprises since he was Louisville’s head coach was how important people thought of him.
But he’s very important around here. He’s always said coming to Louisville isn’t just about basketball. He told his listeners about that swap with former UK Wildcat and current New York Knick Julius Randle as he decided to take the job at the U of L.
“He’s like, ‘Unc, I’m proud of you, go change Louisville,'” Payne said of a conversation that happened near the end of a game last season. “I said ‘Julius, I keep telling you this. There are some people in life, you make other people’s lives better. But while you make their lives better, your life is in constant turmoil. C ‘is me. Everywhere I turn there’s a roadblock, there’s a struggle, there’s adversity. But every person I touch, I’m trying to help them succeed.'”
“So he looked at me and he said, ‘You don’t understand Unc. God got you.'”
Payne has spoken with businesses about helping West End residents.
On the pitch, he had to work with his players both mentally and physically based on what he learned during his first meetings with the players last season.
“They said ‘coach, that was bad,'” Payne said. “‘Coach, it was disorganized. Coach, it was heartbreaking.'”
Payne said he was trying to build a culture of character, work ethic and discipline. He said he hopes to have the guys in place to do what he wants to do this year, but says time will tell. He doesn’t want to talk about wins and losses because he just doesn’t know what to expect there.
The only thing that won’t change is who he is now that he’s a head coach.
“‘Kenny Payne, you’re the guy who got up at one, two in the morning to go practice the kids. You can’t do that anymore,'” Payne said of the things friends in the company have told him. “Oh yes, I do. I do. I don’t let the work, the title take me away from what made me successful.”
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