Here’s the transcript from Kenny Payne and his two player representatives time at the podium during Wednesday’s ACC Media Day festivities:
Q. Coach, thoughts about how it is that you are setting the culture for your program moving forward.
KENNY PAYNE: I think one of the things that is vital for me to establish right away is my own personal culture, a culture that’s built on success for young people.
You know, it’s easy to talk about wins and losses. That’s not the real issue that these young people need to be hearing.
I need a culture that’s built on work ethic, that’s built on character, that’s built on guys that are overcoming barriers, development within themselves, both on the court and off the court. If I establish that, in my mind, I’ve succeeded, without ever talking about a win or a loss.
Q. What’s it like to accept this job at your alma mater? That must be an enormous accomplishment for you and must come with a lot of pressure, as well.
KENNY PAYNE: You’re right on both. The obligation that I feel for my school and the pressure to make everybody happy, it never goes away. Before I go to sleep at night, I’m thinking about it. How do I please all this whole community, this whole city, the whole state of Kentucky, and also please these kids and their parents. That’s the job that I’ve been given.
I took the job simply because of that. I took the job because there was a disconnect, a disconnect between the community, a disconnect between former players, a disconnect between these kids. If I can help in that, in any shape, form or fashion, and be a vessel to connect these people and really to make them all proud — it’s not about me, it’s about them. It never goes away.
Q. Sydney, if coach speaks to the idea of trying to bring together community, to try to get things in a different place, he’s obviously dedicated himself to the community. What are you doing to dedicate yourself back to him?
SYDNEY CURRY: Just coming in every day, working hard for Coach. So he pushes us every day, so just coming in, working hard every day, and just trying to get better for the team.
Q. El, you got a chance to go to Hawai’i to play a little basketball. Have you ever been to Hawai’i before?
EL ELLIS: No, I’ve never been to Hawai’i.
Q. What is it you’re looking forward to?
EL ELLIS: Man, going out there and looking forward to compete. Getting out of the country, something I haven’t really done in my life. Just being able to go out there and have fun and compete, it’s going to be fun.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about your coaching staff as far as getting Danny Manning, also Nolan Smith who are both champions? Can you talk a little bit about them and how you went about the process of getting them?
KENNY PAYNE: Great question. To go back a little further, when I got the job, I think I had 3,000 people hit me about working for me or being a part of the staff.
As I went through it mentally, how in the world do you digest so many coaches from all facets of life, every level, NBA, college, high school, AAU, how do you digest all of that?
One thing that kept sticking with me that Larry Brown said to me: The obligation of a coach is to love the people that he’s coaching. So my number one criteria, I knew I was hiring guys that were uniquely qualified for the job. I wanted guys that have won championships, that were winners. I wanted guys that could give their life to young people.
But more importantly than the X’s and O’s and the knowledge of the game and the experience that a Nolan Smith has had or a Danny Manning or even a Josh Jamieson or Milt Wagner or Reece Gaines, I wanted them — the number one thing, you have to love kids to work for me. You’ve got to love them.
Then after you love them, really important, you have to adopt their dreams. Adopt them. Don’t assume because a kid tells you how to trust, I want to be a great NBA player. Don’t say that he can’t do it. You adopt his dream and you give him what he needs to make that dream come true.
If he falls short, that’s on him. We gave 110 percent together. That’s how I went about picking a staff.
I went public and said this: I believe that I have the most unique staff in the history of the college game. That does not mean we’re going to win games right off the bat. That means each one of these coaches have a unique experience that they can share with young people to help them reach their goals and dreams. To me, that’s a win-win.
Q. Sydney, your teammate up on stage is the returning leading scorer, 8.7 points per game. Who else is going to score? Who else is going to bring the heat, fill the hoop this season to complement his season average?
SYDNEY CURRY: I think Jae’Lyn Withers brings a lot to the team; Huntley-Hatfield. We have a lot of guys that brings a lot to the team, besides scoring and other things they can do on the court. I feel like we have a lot of guys that contribute to the team.
Q. You’ve got seven players who are at least 6’8” and taller. In time, are we going to see more than seven players at that height? What’s your recruiting strategy, and what’s going to be that game style that matches up to such height?
KENNY PAYNE: Recruiting strategy is I need high-end talent that has a high-end character. I need givers. I don’t need takers. I need guys that, whether they know it or not, they bring something to their team, regardless of if they can really explain what they’re bringing.
For example, I go watch a player play and I watch how the other four players relate to him and I watch how he relates to those other four players. If there’s a positive energy there, I want that player. I want a player that instinctively can make a pass and take joy when the guy he passed it to scores.
I want a guy that can post-up, can shoot a three, can shoot a mid-range, can make lay-ups, can pass the ball, that can rebound the ball above the rim, can run the lane, can push the ball. I want complete versatile basketball players that have a unique ability to fight for what they want and that are dream chasers.
I’m not really looking for the good player that isn’t willing to fight for his dream, who assumes it’s just going to happen. That’s delusion. I can’t help that kid. I can only help the ones that are realistic about what they want in life, and those are the kids that I want to recruit.
I hope I have a bunch of seven-foot guys that can play the point, the 2, the 3, the 4, the 5.
Q. Coach talks about being the dream chasers. Sydney, what’s your dream?
SYDNEY CURRY: My dream is to make it to the NBA and take care of my family. I feel like Coach is doing a good job of pushing me every day to reach my goals.
EL ELLIS: I would say going to the NBA, most importantly taking care of my family. I have a family that’s dependent on me and they’re pushing me every day to work hard and achieve my goals.
Q. Coach, in the game notes, or at least in the profile notes heading into the season, it speaks to the Cardinals being one of the most highly profiled programs when it comes to television. What does that TV exposure do for what it is you’re trying to bring in as being part of your program?
KENNY PAYNE: It shines a light. It shines a light on what Louisville basketball is. You can’t hide. If every night or every game is pretty much on TV, the world is watching. What are they seeing? Are they seeing guys that are disjointed? Are they seeing guys that are together? Are they seeing guys that regardless if they win or lose, they’re fighting, or are they watching guys let go of the rope? What are they watching? Are they seeing coaches that have the ability to touch a player, which is a form of love, and a player touch a coach?
When a time-out happens or referee blows a whistle, I want players coming to me and putting their arms around me, and I want to put my arms around them and say, what do you see?
I want the world to see that. I want the world to see that even in the face of losing games that you don’t give up on what you’re trying to accomplish, that you don’t blame.
In the form of winning games, I want them to see we stay the same. Every single day, we’re hungry, and we’re humble.
Q. Coach, how do you incorporate your experience as a player both at the college level and at the NBA level when you’re talking to your players? Do you give examples, or what’s your method taking that experience and bringing it in as a head coach of Louisville?
KENNY PAYNE: Great question. Real simple. I can be delusional and be selfish and say, guys, you’re playing basketball; it’s just a game. That’s not reality.
These young men right here, you heard them say it, it’s bigger than them. They are fighting for their lives. I’ve got a bunch of kids that are on my team that are fighting for their lives, where the experience is to tell them that they are fighting for their lives.
Delusional is it’s just a game. You don’t really have to go to class. You don’t really have to pour 150 percent in. That’s not reality. Reality is whatever happens from 18 to 23 is going to last these young men for the rest of their lives. Don’t live with regret. Pour 150 percent in, and whatever happens, you can live with.
But if you pour 75 percent in and your life doesn’t turn out the way you’re going to live with that pain.
My experience, I’ve been real close to that line of living with that pain, and by the grace of God, I’m sitting here, and I’ve been able to help people because I put them first, and I want them to know that I care, I love them, and I’m coaching them out of love.
There has to be a fear of failure to know exactly what you’re facing in this world, because when it’s over, this college thing is over, this gets real real.