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By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne knows the NCAA championship he helped win at Louisville looks good on his resume, but he knows his NBA experience brings him Ã¢â‚¬Å“instant credibilityÃ¢â‚¬Â that is even more important in recruiting.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“What is instant credibility for kids? I want to be a NBA player. The moment you have been in the NBA and are coaching and talking to a kid, you have got his ear,Ã¢â‚¬Â said Payne. Ã¢â‚¬Å“ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what they want to hear and be associated with.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Tell me the stories of when you played against Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan. They want to hear that. You were teammates with Charles Barkley. The instant credibility of being an ex-NBA player gives you a foot in the door with players. Regardless of whether they decide to come to your institution or not, you have their ear because you have done what they are trying to do.Ã¢â‚¬Â
If thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not enough, Payne thinks the story ofÃ‚Â how he went back to college to complete his degree after ending his professional career is appealing to recruits and their families as well.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“My story is very unique, very different because it identifies with talented young kids today where it is strictly basketball. I did not take it as serious as a college student (as I should have) and 20 years later I go back to school and it is like starting from scratch. I tell kids I had never passed a math class until I was 35 years old,Ã¢â‚¬Â Payne said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was different, tough. I approached my schooling as my last opportunity to do something positive and not mess up. If I had done that in school, I would have saved two years of my life (by not having to go back to college).Ã¢â‚¬Â
Payne laughs when he remembers group projects and seminars he was part of when he went back to school.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Those kids are taking it lightly and I am stressing cause I have got to have a certain GPA. I panic and they are like, Ã¢â‚¬ËœWhat are you worrying about?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â Payne laughed and said.
PayneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s reputation as a solid recruiter grew during his time at Oregon and many college basketball recruiting analysts expect him to be even better under Calipari at UK.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Opposed to the institution, recruiting is more about relationships. When I was coming out of high school, it was more what the top programs were doing. Now it is more what will you do to help my son become the best player he can be and what will you do to help him stay on track to graduate,Ã¢â‚¬Â Payne said.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“This institution, along with two or three others, hands down is the best at that. John Calipari and the University of Kentucky is a perfect match for taking kids to the next level. The moment you step into this program, every NBA team, every scout knows who you are. You have to be on top of your game because you are on the verge of being a millionaire for just stepping into this program. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s unheard of. In one year he (Calipari) has taken this program to that.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Payne says he Ã¢â‚¬Å“doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t separate the university from the kidÃ¢â‚¬Â when he is recruiting. Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think if I am recruiting you, I have been in your shoes. I am not going to sit here and just sell an institution. I believe in my heart that the difference is the people. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the people in charge of your livelihood. It is all about their success. Education-wise, winning-wise, future-wise. Then we can have a bond,Ã¢â‚¬Â Payne said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“That has been my role. Not lying, being honest. Being more a person that wants to see your kid succeed and experience what I did.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“To be honest, I canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t begin to tell you (a recruit) what it is like to be drafted and go to your parents and say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœDo you want a new home? Do you want two new vehicles?Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ To help my grandmother in Starkville (Miss.) pay her house off and see her response, thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s what this game did for me. When you have that perspective as opposed to it is all about my goal and me being a head coach . . . I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe in that.Ã¢â‚¬Â