There was no spring break hangover for members of the media and the University of Colorado women’s basketball team on Monday. Instead, players gathered at the Coors Events Center early in the morning to meet their new head coach, JR Payne. Payne, formerly of Santa Clara University, was officially announced in a press conference later in the day. The CU Independent previously reported the hire.
It’s going to be a big investment from CU, who gave their new skipper a five-year, $1.675 million contract, a lot of time to turn around a Buffaloes program that had an all-time worst 7-23 season last year.
“Moving forward, everything our program will be about will be about building CU women’s basketball,” said Payne during her introductory press conference.
And it’s not like she hasn’t done it before. In her previous stops at Southern Utah and Santa Clara, Payne turned the teams from basement-dwellers into 23-win programs that made it to the WNIT. While on paper it doesn’t jump out, the same way the 101-113 record doesn’t, the Buffaloes’ new head coach has a focus on building a certain type of player.
“There are so many different ways to gauge success,” explained Payne. “For us, we love the basketball part of what we do. What we are most passionate about is working with the young women that work in your program and watching them leave your program as women that can take on the world.”
Payne will be the eighth head coach ever in the Colorado women’s basketball program, and will have a good crop of players to start her career with, including freshman guards Kennedy Leonard and Alexis Robinson.
It seemed to be the general consensus among players that an introductory meeting with Payne went well this morning, and that she was well received by the team. One player from the team talked to the CU Independent shortly after the meeting and simply said, “Love her.”
The positive impressions were felt by media and CU staff alike during the press conference, and perhaps the most positive impression was made on Rick George, Colorado’s Athletic Director.
“I actually got to meet with JR in Las Vegas for the first time at the (Pac-12) men’s basketball tournament,” George recalled. “She was gracious enough to stick around and meet with myself and Lance Carl. Some time passed and then we met last last week and we came to a decision late last week.”
There are still some things up in the air: whether or not Payne will be able to get any last minute recruits with the window closing, or how quickly she will transition into becoming the team’s head coach. But perhaps most importantly, the status of assistant coaches Jamie Carey and Mike Petrino, the only two holdovers from the Linda Lappe era, is still uncertain.
With so many factors still undecided, one thing is for sure — the era of JR Payne has begun at the University of Colorado.