Transcript via ASAP Sports
Q. Coming off of last year’s results, you have a schedule that’s designed to get off to a good start, how important is it for this team to put the year behind them and get off to a good start?
KENNY PAYNE: Great question.
I think it’s also important that we don’t forget last year because we have something to prove. There should be a chip on our shoulder. We have to earn respect. I’m constantly talking to the guys about what happened last year, how we looked, how our chemistry wasn’t right, how people viewed us.
We have something to prove and we’re not going to forget that. I’m not going to just say, Let’s move on from it. I want us to prove to people that we are taking a major step in the right direction with this program. We’re going to have some success this season.
Q. How do you gauge this team’s level of experience after you lose some guys in the portal? How would you gauge what you’ve seen from this new group in terms of bringing in guys that have played in the NCAA tournament before?
KENNY PAYNE: I think it’s been pretty good so far. We have to play some games to really know.
I see a level of maturity that you rarely see in players, in young players especially. But like these two guys up here, they now have some real game experience. Brandon has game experience. The guys we brought in, as well, with Skyy and Tray, they have a lot of game experience.
I’m not going to overlook a guy like D-Lo who is coming in from Miami where he was part of a Final Four team. I mean, that’s pretty good.
I’m challenging my freshmen to not be freshmen, to approach it with a different mindset, learn fast, grow fast, to have a maturity about it so that we can have a chance to win games. It’s very hard to win if your young guys are being freshmen. I need them to grow fast (smiling).
Hopefully that answers your question.
Q. You talk about the experience that is on the floor playing, but your bench, Louisville is believed to be the only program in the country to have three coaches, yourself and assistants, who are not only NBA Draft picks but have also won national championships. Throw Danny Manning into that mix, as well. What do you expect from the experience as coaches that will help these players grow fast?
KENNY PAYNE: Another great question.
I think when I put this staff together, I knew what I wanted in the experience category. I knew the backgrounds that I wanted with guys that have played in the NBA, that have reached dreams that these young guys want to reach.
They’re the key to it. The key is: how do you take your life experience, Danny Manning, Nolan Smith, myself, and there’s Milt Wagner, Reece Gaines. We have a bunch of good, good coaches that have experienced a lot of things.
But the key is not that you experienced it for you. At this age of our lives, we have to give it to them. So my two things were, one, I need you to love young people. That’s a part of working at Louisville for me. Love ‘em. And then two, adopt their dreams.
We all know that this game is hard. We all know how hard it is to be an NBA player. We all know how hard it is to be successful at anything. If it was easy, everybody would be winning.
But our lives have been blessed. A part of giving back what God has given to us is giving it to these young people. That’s really important for me, that when you talk about the experience of my staff, that we not only just look at ourselves and say, Look what I’ve done. That’s not the key. The key is look at what we’re going to give back through our lives to these guys.
Q. Going off of that, playing at Louisville and having that experience, it’s one thing to be a student-athlete, it’s another one to be a student-athlete at the school that you’re leading right now. How do you take those moments from your positive history and, like you said, give it to them?
KENNY PAYNE: Great question.
For me, it’s a couple things that I good through mentally. One, it’s bigger than me. Sometimes I think people forget exactly what that means.
I was 16, 17, 18 years old when I went to the University of Louisville. I didn’t know anything (smiling). I was blessed to be with teammates that were similar to me, some older than me, Milt Wagner, Billy Thompson, Herb Crook, Jeff Hall.
When I look back at it now, I’m representing more than just myself. I’m representing all the former players that ever wore that jersey. I’m representing a community that has a love for the University of Louisville. For that basketball program, there is a love.
I know sometimes people say, Well, how do you deal with the scuttlebutt? How do you deal with the negativity?
We have great fans. They want to win. Look at what happens when we win. You look at our volleyball program, our football program. When they win games, I mean, the Notre Dame game is an example. I want these kids to be able to walk onto that court at the Yum! Center and that arena be full, and they go out and fight not just for themselves but for the history of the program, but for those fans as well.
That’s the best way that I can describe, like, it’s pressure not to win or lose. I’m representing every former player. I’m representing a black community. I’m representing a corporate community.
When I chose to come to the university, I heard from everybody, the governor, the mayor. I mean, it goes on. All the politicians, all the business leaders. Please come back.
It’s not just about winning and losing a game, it’s about reestablishing a culture of excellence.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you. You can switch places with Mike. We’ll take questions for Mike.
Q. Mike, Kenny has talked about you being a leader on this team. I’m wondering, after having your first season, coming back from injury, what does that look like for you? He also talked about not wanting to let last season fall out of mind. How do you take from what you grew into as a player last year, and how do you help bring along the freshman class?
MIKE JAMES: I think last year kind of motivated my experience of being a leader for the guys this year, just the stuff I went through last year as a player and as a team, just learning from the mistakes, the ups and downs of last year.
Carrying that onto this year and teaching the guys what we should be doing and shouldn’t be doing so we don’t have the same things happen to us, same things that happened to us last year happen again this year to us.
Just teaching the guys how to be a good teammate, how to go hard, how to win.
Q. A lot has been mentioned about how this is a rebuilt roster. There’s some returning guys back. A lot of emphasis put on how much of an impact the new guys need to give. What do you need to do as returners to make sure last year isn’t repeated this year?
MIKE JAMES: First things first. Last question, too, we got to lead. We were here last year. We went through the season last year. We need to come in and lead the guys, especially the freshmen coming in this year. We got to bring it defensively. We got to be a way better defensive team, lead on that end. Communication, all that stuff.
Overall give better effort, compete. Main thing we have to do this year is really compete and go hard.
Q. Spoke about the staff earlier on, the staff of success. As student-athletes and professional athletes, what does it mean to you to have so much success on the sideline that’s teaching you?
MIKE JAMES: It’s a blessing, for real. To have these coaches with me every day, they’ve been to where I want to go, the NBA. They’ve won national championships. Just listening to everything that they give you is a blessing.
I don’t see no better opportunity than to be coached by a staff full of NBA players and national championship winners. Yeah, it’s just a blessing. I don’t take it for granted. I just try to soak in as much knowledge and information that they give me every single day.
THE MODERATOR: Mike, switch places with JJ. Questions for JJ.
Q. As a returning player, what do you need to do to help the team take the program the next step that you want to?
JJ TRAYNOR: I feel like as a returner, going through last year, I feel like those guys should understand what we went through, should know what we need to do to change.
I feel like this summer has been really effective in getting to do that. We’ve been competing, getting after it. I feel like the guys are ready.
Q. You’re the only senior on this roster. Could you take me back from day one starting out here as a freshman, heading into this season as an upperclassman, how much have you grown as a player? How much did getting that experience last year help you in that regard?
JJ TRAYNOR: I’ve grown a ton as a player. When I first got to Louisville as a freshman, I was raw. I didn’t have the most complete game. I’d say to where I am now, like, it’s a big jump.
What was your second question?
Q. How much did last year help you?
JJ TRAYNOR: It definitely helped me a lot. Being out there, playing 20 to 30 minutes a game, getting this experience against all the teams in the ACC, playing against different defenses and things like that. I learned where I can be effective and where I’m also not effective.
I feel like that will help me this year.
Q. Looking at the adversity of last season, we can’t grow without it, right? You never truly know who you are if you don’t go through those tough times that mold you. How did last season mold you into who you are today? How did the adversity turn into a positive?
JJ TRAYNOR: Honestly, last year was really hard. Probably one of the hardest things I ever went through.
But getting through that taught me a lot. It taught us as a team a lot. Even though you may not win, obviously we didn’t win, but we still could learn something throughout the games.
Taking each game as a learning process, I feel like it’s really helped me, made me a better player as I am today.
Q. I just looked at the roster of both coaches and team. I think I have this right. Of 29 people, both student-athletes and coaching and support staff, of the 29, you are one of the three people that have been there the longest under this current iteration. Your athletic trainer, a graduate manager, and you.
JJ TRAYNOR: Yeah.
Q. Do you have a responsibility? Do you have a different perspective? What is your job as the veteran?
JJ TRAYNOR: I definitely feel like I have a different perspective. I’ve seen it all. I’ve been through it all. So I just try to teach the guys when they need answers or come to me for help. I just teach them what I’ve learned.
It’s definitely weird being the older guy now ‘cause I’ve always felt like I was the young guy. I’ve had a bunch of teammates here throughout my time. Now that I’m the older guy, I got to take that role and take that step.
THE MODERATOR: Louisville, good luck this year.