It’s rare for UK to be the backup for any high school basketball recruit these days, but it sounds like that’s the case with Zan Payne.
Payne’s recruitment has also put his father, UK assistant coach Kenny Payne, in the unique position of steering a prospect away from the Wildcats.
“I’ve talked to him a little bit about it,” Zan said. “He’d rather me play DI somewhere else though. If not, I’d walk on at Kentucky.”
The younger Payne scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead Lexington Catholic to a 45-40 victory over Marshall County on Saturday night at the annual Marshall County Hoop Fest. Toward the end of the third quarter, UK Coach John Calipari and top assistant Kenny Payne walked into the gym.
Calipari kept an eye on Zan throughout the fourth quarter.
The sight of those two coaches standing around a basketball court is nothing new for Zan, who is in his senior season at Lexington Catholic and says he spends a lot of his time hanging around the Craft Center practice facility on UK’s campus.
“He makes me come with him every night,” Zan said of his father. “It’s helped a lot, because (the UK players) encourage me, too. They tell me to play stronger.”
Through three games this season, Payne — a 6-foot-4, 200-pound forward — is averaging 24.7 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Knights. He was named the state’s 23rd-best player in a Herald-Leader survey of high school coaches prior to this season.
His father’s status as an assistant coach at UK has led to the speculation that Payne could end up as a Wildcats walk-on next season.
His talent level could send him somewhere else.
Though he has no scholarship offers from Division I schools yet, Payne said there have been some programs that have reached out to his father about the possibility.
The plan is to play out this season without worrying about recruiting, then assess his options at the end of his senior year. Payne, who sees himself as a small forward at the next level, also mentioned playing a post-grad year in prep school, then heading to college, as a possibility.
He had nothing but good things to say about Calipari and the UK program and players, but, understandably, he said he’d probably prefer to play on scholarship at a Division I school, if that opportunity arises.
His father agrees.
“He thinks I’m better than walking on, so that’s why he’d rather me go to a different school,” Zan said.