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The NBA and college ranks react to the Knicks hiring Kenny Payne

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He’s respected.

Kentucky v Utah Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

The New York Knicks officially signed former University of Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne Tuesday, setting off a surprisingly robust set of “LOLKnicks” posts on social media from various fans and writers.

The joke here, you see, is that Payne knows former Kentucky players — and current NBA stars — like Devin Booker, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. Because this is the Knicks, that means they signed Payne only because he is friends with those players. Same old Knicks, right, Howard?

Now, I clown on the Knicks as much as anyone, but I have nothing but respect for their decision to pluck Payne away from Kentucky. This is a dude with a sterling coaching reputation. The fact that his former college charges still swear by him is a great thing, not a cause for mockery.

Payne was making damn fine assistant money at UK — reportedly $900,000 annually — so the Knicks had to break out James Dolan’s piggy bank to get this deal done.

For that money, the Knicks are getting a respected basketball mind, both at the college and pro level. Per WDRB.com’s Rick Bozich:

“The thing about Kenny most people don’t know is that he has been respected across the NBA as much as he’s been respected in college basketball,” said Milt Wagner, Payne’s friend and teammate on Louisville’s 1986 NCAA title team.

“When people in the NBA want to know about a college player, they call Kenny Payne. And not just about Kentucky players. Any player. Nobody is more plugged in.”

That is true. Always has been true.

Without an NBA Draft combine or individual workouts since the end of the college season because of the novel corona virus, Payne has taken multiple calls from NBA scouts. They asked him questions about players like Jaden McDaniels of Washington, Jordan Nwora of Louisville and others.

Bozich goes on to write that Payne’s dream of being a head coach was never realized despite 10 years at one of the NCAA’s best programs. “College basketball failed him,” Bozich said.

Perhaps college basketball’s loss is the Knicks’ gain.

College analysts also noted how essential Payne has been for UK coach John Calipari:

Kevin Knox, whose birthday was Tuesday, was ecstatic to hear the news that his former coach would be joining him in New York, as did several other former Kentucky NBA’ers.

Former Wildcat Julius Randle also took to Twitter to express his joy.

Long story short: Kenny Payne is cool. I’m glad he’s with the Knicks.