Waking up back east on Monday morning, Tasha Harris could not wait to send a text to JR Payne.
Harris knew Payne was two hours behind her in Boulder, but couldn’t resist sending a congratulatory message after news broke that Payne would become the head women’s basketball coach at Colorado.
It had been eight years since Harris, a graduate of Skyline High School in Longmont, last played for Payne, but the two are still in frequent contact.
“I’ve never had a coach that’s really cared about her players as much as she has,” said Harris, who starred at Boise State at a time when Payne worked as an assistant coach for the Broncos. “She’s just really just a genuine, kindhearted person. The same goes for (Payne’s husband and assistant coach Toriano Towns).”
On Monday, Payne was introduced as CU’s head coach, and Towns was announced as the Buffs’ associate head coach, and it seems clear that their personal approach is still a part of how they run a program.
“I like the fact that her husband is on staff and she has kids,” CU guard Alexis Robinson said. “She seems really family oriented and she seems like she’s a really caring person and I really like that. To me, it’s a really big deal, because I want someone who is going to get on me, but at the same time cares about me. It’s nice to have.”
Perhaps the biggest criticism current and former CU players had about former coach Linda Lappe is that relationship building was not her strong point, and that players had a tough time connecting with her. That does not appear to be a problem with Payne.
“(Payne) seemed really relationship-based, which is a nice change, especially from what we had last season,” guard Kennedy Leonard said. “From first impression, she seems like she already cares about us, which is really cool to see.”
Harris, who was a two-time all-WAC first-team selection at Boise State said, “I was, without a doubt, playing my best basketball with those two as my coaches.” Harris credits Payne’s personal approach for playing a big role in how Harris developed as a player.
Payne said that approach has always worked for her, and she’ll continue to do that at CU.
“What we’re more excited about is the opportunity to get to know them as people, learn about their families, where are you from, what are you like,” Payne said. “I told them this morning, I want to know all of your pet peeves.
“Everything we operate on is based on relationships. The family atmosphere that we provide for our students and that we generally want from our student-athletes is really important to us. What we’re really preparing them for is life, so they can deal with adversity later.”
Payne is hoping the current Buffs see that she is genuine and learn to trust her as their coach. Initially, Payne’s toughest job might be to keep any of the players from transferring, but Payne hopes the players see she is ready to buy into them.
“We want people that want to be here, and we want these girls to be here,” she said. “We want to build this program with them, and I think they get that feeling.”
Brian Howell: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.