Louisville Cardinals to hire Kenny Payne as men's basketball coach, sources say

Louisville will officially announce former Cardinals standout and current New York Knicks assistant coach Kenny Payne as their next men's basketball coach at a news conference on Friday morning, sources told ESPN.

Payne, who will be the program's first Black head coach, has been viewed as the favorite to replace Chris Mack since Louisville's search began in January.

The University of Louisville Athletic Association is scheduled to meet Friday morning and the school will hold a news conference at the Cardinals' KFC Yum! Center home arena.

A Mississippi native who played his college ball at Louisville, Payne won a national championship with the Cardinals in 1986 before being selected in the first round of the 1989 NBA draft.

He is known as one of the elite recruiters in college basketball.

Payne started his coaching career as an assistant coach at Oregon before spending a decade as an assistant coach under John Calipari at Kentucky. He consistently helped land elite recruiting classes, with Kentucky finishing with the No. 1 recruiting class in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2020. Payne also developed a reputation as someone who helped improve a number of post players during his time in Lexington.

"He is a dear friend, and I will tell you that they could not hire anybody that will do a better job than Kenny Payne,'' Calipari said Wednesday at an NCAA tournament news conference in Indianapolis. "I may say he should have been hired before there, but, you know what, they get him, they got the best of the best.''

Payne spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the Knicks.

Interim athletic director Josh Heird considered a number of other candidates throughout the search, including UCLA's Mick Cronin and Baylor's Scott Drew, but Payne remained Louisville's top candidate throughout the process, sources told ESPN.

He will replace Mack, who mutually parted ways with Louisville in late January. The Cardinals were 11-9 at the time of Mack's departure, and finished 13-19 this season.

Louisville assistant Mike Pegues served two stints as interim coach, guiding the Cardinals to a 5-1 start while Mack was suspended before taking over again following his departure.

Under Mack, Louisville went to the NCAA tournament in 2019 and went 24-7 in 2020 before the NCAA tournament was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Payne will have to deal with possible NCAA penalties resulting from a 2017 federal corruption investigation of college basketball. Louisville awaits an outcome from The Independent Accountability Resolution Process (IARP) over NCAA allegations against the program following the federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.