"He moved up to the varsity team and played the second half of that season and then three more years for me," said Robinson, who still lives and coaches in Mississippi. "He's still the same Kenny I always knew, too. He came from a fantastic family. His father was a school teacher and his mother worked at the post office and worked a lot of late hours. They taught him right from wrong. They gave him a good work ethic and taught him the right things to do."
Payne was a Parade All-American in high school and the Mississippi player of the year. He almost came to Kentucky, but that's the year Joe B. Hall retired and Eddie Sutton was hired. Payne instead picked Louisville over UK and Mississippi State. "He was close to going to Kentucky, but Louisville had recruited him so hard. He had a great relationship with both (UK assistant) Leonard Hamilton and (Louisville assistant) Wade Houston. It went down to the wire, but the coaching change at Kentucky had a lot to do with it," Robinson said.
He came to Louisville from Northeast Jones High School in Laurel, Miss., where he was a Parade All-American and the state's player of the year. A member of the 1986 NCAA champion Louisville Cardinals, Kenny Payne joined the Oregon staff in the summer of 2004.
It worked out well for Payne. He was on Denny Crum's 1986 national championship team and scored 1,083 points in his career. He averaged 14.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game his senior season. He was a first-round draft pick by the Philadelphia 76ers and played four years there before spending the next seven years overseas in Italy, Japan, Brazil, the Philippines, Cyprus, China, Argentina and Australia. However, he returned to Louisville to finish his degree when his playing days ended and earned his bachelor's of science degree in sport administration in 2003 — 14 years after his collegiate basketball career ended.
"It does not surprise me at all that he has turned out so well," Robinson said. "We would go home after practice and when his father got him, Kenny would go out in the yard and turn the lights on and shoot until 2 or 3 in the morning. He just loves the game. He's always had a great work ethic and was always serious about the game. It's no surprise to me he's advanced the way he has."
He became an assistant coach at Oregon in 2004 and go credit for his role in Oregon's 29-8 finish in 2006-07 when the Ducks won the Pac-10 Tournament and reached the NCAA Elite Eight. He's also been given credit for helping sign Oregon's highly-touted 2008 recruiting class.
"He is very likable," Robinson said. "Our relationship over the years has remained solid. I don't see him as much as I like because he does not get back this way often. But we communicate.
"I knew the possibility of him going to Kentucky is there. The program is stronger than ever and headed the right way under John Calipari. Kenny loves the game and Kentucky has great tradition and the way they recruit top players would be great for him.
"Kenny will be the first to know when it is time for him to be a head coach. He wants to climb the coaching ladder and do things the right way. He wants to be part of an elite program. He has done a fantastic job at Oregon and helped bring in good players. Oregon has gone through a head coaching change, but I am not sure that would be as much a factor in the move as it would be that Kentucky is an elite program. He will know if it is right in his heart or not.
"If that work outs, he will know it is the right move. If not, he will know he needs to stay put. He is very level headed and a very professional person and has great character that all program would want to have or should want to have. If he comes to Kentucky, I think it would be great for both him and Kentucky."