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The Knicks confirmed Kenny Payne as the first addition to Tom Thibodeau’s new coaching staff, prying away John Calipari’s longtime right-hand man and bringing him from Kentucky to the Garden.

“I’m thrilled that Kenny has joined my staff as an assistant coach. He has an outstanding ability to forge relationships with players and improve their skills,” Thibodeau said in a statement. “He knows what it takes to win and has learned from one of the best coaches there is in John Calipari. Kenny will be a tremendous addition to our organization.”

Payne had spent the past decade working under – and winning with – Calipari, promoted to associate head coach in 2014 and helping the Wildcats to the first 38-0 season in college basketball history just a year later.

But the 53-year-old also has longstanding relationships with not only Knicks president Leon Rose, but senior vice president William Wesley.

Rose had been Calipari’s agent at CAA, where Wesley also worked. And Payne’s ties with “World Wide Wes” stretch back decades, all the way to his days playing for Louisville.

“I now take the next step in my basketball journey and fulfill my dream of coaching in the NBA,” Payne said in a statement. “I’m beyond grateful and excited for the chance to work for such a prestigious organization as the New York Knicks under the leadership of Leon Rose, Scott Perry, William Wesley and Tom Thibodeau, who I have such great admiration and respect for.

“This decision wasn’t easy for me. I have a great job at Kentucky, and to think about leaving has been one of the hardest things I have ever done. But I have also been offered an incredible opportunity with the New York Knicks and a chance to help restore what I believe should be the premier organization in the NBA.”

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During his time at Kentucky, Payne has helped nine big men become lottery picks, including top overall picks Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns.

He coached Knicks Julius Randle and Kevin Knox, and will be reunited with them in the Garden. Calipari gushed over his former associate head coach, and said Payne will be key in developing all the Knicks and an asset to Thibodeau’s staff.

Knicks Kenny Payne Kentucky Kevin Knox
Knicks forward Kevin Knox talks to Kenny Payne during a Kentucky game in 2018.Getty Images

“This is a bittersweet day for us at Kentucky,” Calipari said. “Kenny has been an extremely important part of our success here. His relationship with our players is second to none. He coaches them and challenges them as hard as anyone, but they respect him, they listen to him and they learn from him because they know he cares. As a basketball coach and a teacher, he could run any program in the country. Simply, he’s as good as they get.

“I was disappointed that Kenny didn’t get that chance, but this is one of those opportunities Kenny had to look at, and I fully support his decision to join Tom Thibodeau’s staff. Kenny’s approach with his players, his knowledge of and his experience in the game, and his work ethic will serve him well on the professional level. I have high expectations for him in the NBA. For Julius Randle and Kevin Knox, it will be immediate, but as other players get to know and trust him, they’ll know he’s about one thing: their improvement and their success. I have no doubt that Kenny is going to be a great asset to coach Thibodeau’s staff.”

Source: New York Post

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