LOUISVILLE — Jamil Wilson was recruited to play at Oregon by current Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne and once Payne left for Kentucky, he just didn’t feel the same about playing for the Ducks.
Wilson transferred to Marquette, sat out a season and then helped his team get into the NCAA Tournament this season. That’s how both Wilson and Payne found themselves at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville this week even though their teams are in different brackets.
Brigham Young on Thursday, Payne was waiting for Wilson to come off the court and gave him a huge hug that Wilson admitted he enjoyed.
“Kenny recruited me in high school and he was my coach at Oregon.¿I was with him for a year and we still have a pretty good connection.¿I talk to him every offseason to see how he is doing. I am close with him and his family — his son and his daughter and his wife. It was really good to see him again,” said Wilson.
When Payne came to Kentucky, he talked about the hardest part of making the move was leaving the recruits he had helped bring to Oregon a year earlier. Wilson was one of those recruits.
“We all went out there together and I went there because of him. Once he left, it was kind of hard to stay out there without the people that brought you to that program,” Wilson. “Kenny is a great coach, great guy. That doesn’t change. He puts in a lot of work. I¿know the year I¿had with him, we spent every time we could just working out and getting up shots. It doesn’t surprise me that he has helped Kentucky do so well.”
Wilson said it’s not hard for him to figure why Payne is a good recruiter and coach.
“I think just his personality and what he brings to the table with his resume of being in the NBA. He just looks out for you as a person and player the same way,” Wilson said. “He is just an all-around great guy.¿I can’t explain how much he helped me as person and how much he helped me being away from home and going to his house for holidays and stuff like that. He’s just a great man.”
Wilson says Payne’s gentle demeanor can change on the practice court, but he does it in a way players appreciate.
“He looks like a big teddy bear, but when it comes down to getting you better, that is what he thrives off of,” Wilson said. “He wants you to grow as a young man, and get better in life as well as off the court. That is him. He can be really intense. I can remember thos practices and him getting on my tail and things like that.
“But he can do that from just him having a playing career because he knows how to get under people’s skin and he knows how to get the best out of you.¿He did it to me a lot at Oregon.”
Wilson says Payne’s NBA resume gives him credibility as a recruiter and coach, too.
“It does help. Most coaches, some played basketball, some don’t. Some just studied the game their whole life,” Wilson said. “But someone who has been through it, knows your aches and pains and knows what it takes to get over that hump, it makes you respect them a little bit more because they have been through what you are going through right now.”
Wilson was not the least bit surprised Payne was waiting for him after Thursday’s game and expected him to do it again Saturday after Marquette played Murray before UK played Iowa State.
“I had seen him the first day when I got here and gave him a big hug in the back, but it didn’t surprise me he was there waiting,” Wilson said. “He has always been a friend of mine and will always be a friend of mine, a life-long friend.
“I understood why he left. We had a talk and understood it was best for him and his family. In this world, you have to do what is best for you and your family. When you are a husband, you have to provide. No hard feelings against him at all.”
Memories: Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg played for Iowa State in the 1992 NCAA Tournament against Kentucky, and remembers the game well.
“It was a heck of a game, I remember that. I remember (coach) Johnny Orr yelling at Rick Pitino to get back in the coaches box the entire game. It was one of the most exciting games I've ever been a part of. It was 106¿98. I had two of those 98. I fouled out, which was the only game in my college career that I fouled out of a game,” Hoiberg said Friday.
“But it was exciting. We won our first round matchup against a very good UNC-Charlotte team, which gave us a chance to play against Kentucky. And then to be a part of that whole process of what happened in the next two games where you see that shot (Duke’s Christian) Laettner hits at the beginning of almost every broadcast in the NCAA. Wish we could have pulled out the win. I remember (Jamal) Mashburn was unstoppable that game.”
Great teammate: Freshman walk-on guard Sam Malone has missed most of the season after suffering a knee injury, but he was with the team in Louisville.
“He's a great teammate, and he's been with our team. He had the knee injury that basically made him shut it down for the year, but the guys love him,” Calipari said. “They all live together, and he's one of our members of our team, and the guys treat him that way, and he treats them that way. So it's been a good experience for he and (walk-on) Brian Long, both of them.”