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Kentucky assistant Kenny Payne meets with Mississippi State as Bulldogs search for coach

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports

NEW ORLEANS – Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin met at the Ritz-Carlton hotel here Friday with Kentucky assistant coach Kenny Payne, sources have told Yahoo! Sports.

Stricklin is looking for a head coach after Rick Stansbury retired earlier this month. Payne, a native of Laurel, Miss., is in town with the No. 1-ranked Wildcats, who play Louisville on Saturday night in the Final Four.

Stricklin did not immediately return a message left Friday evening by Yahoo! Sports.

The Mississippi State search has meandered a bit in recent days, resulting in a request from Stricklin to Bulldogs fans to have patience. He issued a statement Thursday saying that "no deadline has been imposed on the search."

Earlier this month, Stricklin met with Murray State coach Steve Prohm, who shortly thereafter agreed to a contract extension to stay at Murray. Reports also say that Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew pulled out of contention for the job.

Payne comes from the most successful program in the country the past couple of years and knows Mississippi. However, he has no head-coaching experience and is closely tied to controversial basketball maven William Wesley.

Wesley helped get Payne into coaching as an assistant at Oregon. Two years ago Payne moved to Kentucky to coach under John Calipari, a close friend of Wesley's. Wesley is a well-connected consultant for Creative Arts Alliance, an agency that represents coaches and professional players, and he has ties to players on levels from high school to the NBA.

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The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported Thursday that the state's top recruit, Mr. Basketball Devonta Pollard, eliminated Mississippi State from his list of potential schools for the time being.

"I basically took them off the list (after) they got rid of the people who I had a relationship with," Pollard told the Clarion-Ledger. "I feel like it's too late for me to develop a relationship with somebody new."

The McDonald's All-American has Alabama, Georgetown, Missouri and Texas left on his list, according to the paper. He told the Clarion-Ledger he might reconsider MSU if Stricklin hires Payne, Georgetown assistant Robert Kirby or Callaway High School coach Wayne Brent – a former college assistant.

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