It’s not every day that a coach wins his first Atlantic Coast Conference game. But Kenny Payne of the University of Louisville did just that Wednesday night, and his former coach, Denny Crum, couldn’t have been more proud. On Friday morning, Payne made sure to visit Crum and share his celebration with the man who poured so much into the program.
Payne said his phone was flooded with over 200 text messages and calls after the U of L’s 68-58 victory over Georgia Tech. From Larry Brown, Mike Tomlin, and George Felton to Bam Adebayo, Payne’s former player at Kentucky, friends, former teammates, and players wanted to share in the moment. On Friday morning, Payne made certain to visit Crum, who is battling health issues at his home in Jeffersontown.
Payne wanted to check on the spirits of his college coach and reassure him that he and his staff and players aspire to return the program to the standard that Crum established when he made Louisville a national program after arriving in 1971.
The Cards (3-19 overall and 1-10 in the ACC) return to the KFC Yum! Center Saturday at 2 p.m. to host Florida State, a team that defeated U of L, 75-53, on Dec. 10 in Tallahassee. According to the analytics sites, this game represents the Cardinals’ best chance of getting their second ACC victory and fourth overall win over the final four weeks of the regular season.
One player who can raise that percentage is forward Jae’Lyn Withers. He delivered his strongest overall game this season against Tech, with a season high 19 points, four shots from distance, 9 trips to the line (7 made), and 13 rebounds. Payne said he will continue to hold Withers to a high standard and that he needs Withers to see himself the way Payne sees him: as an elite defender, an elite rebounder, and someone who should fill up a stat sheet every night.
The celebration of Payne’s first ACC win was shared by many, and it was a reminder of the hard work and dedication that was put into the program before the current players got there. Payne and his team are still fighting to bring the program back to the standard that Crum established, and the victory was a small step in the right direction.