LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- Kenny Payne estimates he received around 200 calls or texts from former players at Kentucky, ex-NBA and college teammates, coaches and friends after his Louisville basketball team broke a 10-game losing streak and finally gave him his first victory over an ACC team by defeating Georgia Tech Wednesday night.
And Payne, too, reached out to an important person in his life. He paid a visit Friday morning to Hall of Famer Denny Crum, who was his coach for four years at U of L, including the 1986 national championship team.
Crum, who will turn 86 next month, is seriously ill at his home in the country near Jeffersontown and can no longer attend games, where he has been a fixture at midcourt with his wife Susan since he retired following the 2001 season.
Payne wanted to share the joy of the victory with his mentor and reassure him that despite U of L's 3-19 overall record and 1-10 ACC mark going into Saturday's game against Florida State (7-16, 5-7) in the KFC Yum! Center (2 p.m., ESPN2), he is determined to restore Louisville to the standard Crum set for 30 years after taking the job in 1971, turning it into one of the nation's top programs.
Payne said he did most of the talking, but Crum smiled at times in response to what he was hearing.
"I talked to Coach Crum and Susan about what we're trying to do and how we're continuing to try to bring this along," Payne said Friday afternoon. "Tell them we haven't let go of the rope, we're still fighting. I want him and her to be alive to watch us make a big jump and to see this program that he poured so many years into thrive and represent him. These kids have no idea of the work that went into this program before they got here and we're trying to educate them on that as well."
The Cards will try to take another baby step in that direction when they face FSU, a team that clobbered them by 22 points 1 1/2 months ago. It's a game that will provide a measuring stick for how much U of L has improved.
Payne noted that he's facing somewhat of a dilemma as he tries to balance the confidence boost the Cards got, while guarding against them reading too much into the win, which after all came against the last-place team in the league.
"They are definitely more upbeat," Payne said. "There's a happiness about them, which is a double-edged sword because I don't want them to think we've arrived because we haven't. We've still got a lot of work to do, but it's good to see them have their work pay off."
Senior point guard El Ellis said he felt a range of emotions when the final buzzer sounded against the Yellow Jackets.
"Really, a little bit of everything," he said. "You know, just to have that winning feeling. This is the hardest thing any of us has ever had to go through in our basketball career. So for us to get a win after all those losses, it was a relief for sure and I do feel like it can lead to more. We just have to believe in ourselves that we're a good team no matter what our record is. I think it gives us a different hope. I feel like guys are in a different headspace."
This has also been an unusual season for FSU and coach Leonard Hamilton, who has a 424-258 record and 15 postseason appearances in 21 seasons with the Seminoles. He had gone 96-32 from 2018-2021, including an ACC championship in '20, but he has already lost more games this year in any season since '05 (12-19).
Still, the Noles had enough firepower to easily dispatch U of L 75-53 in their Dec. 10 meeting in Tallahassee.
"We're who we are right now," Hamilton said following a 94-66 shellacking at N.C. State Wednesday. "We keep seeming to get everybody's best shot, whether at home or on the road. Hopefully, when we get on the road to play against Louisville, we can straighten it out. This has been one of those years where we are not who we have been, but we will be back."
The Cards just hope the Noles' promised resurgence doesn't start Saturday.