Family comes first for CU Buffs women’s basketball coaches

Head Coach JR Payne and her husband, associate head coach Toriano Towns, lead the Buffs along with their complementary coaching and personality styles.

BOULDER, Col. – For over two decades, JR Payne and Toriano Towns have had a bond far closer than most coaches could ever experience.

“Oh man, it was a long time ago,” Payne said of how the two met. “The kids recently asked me, ‘How long have you and Dad been married?’ and I honestly couldn’t remember.”

“It’s been a while!” Cities added. “Both JR and I went to St. Mary’s College in California and we were both college athletes. I played college football and she played college basketball. Then I became a practice player on the women’s basketball team in my off-season and we just developed a relationship from there.”

Their own team consists of three young children at home: two girls Aliyah Jordan, aged 13 and 10 respectively, and a six-year-old son named Jaxton, who claims to run the household. Their oldest daughter Arianna is 24.

But on the field in Boulder, the coaches walk together on the floor.

“J’s very cerebral and she’s very level-headed. She’s studied a lot. She’s really a technician and a great teacher of the game,” Towns said. “As a partner, she’s very similar to her mother, who is very gentle. There can be a hurricane going on outside and they just work their way through life, which I think is very similar to her-court personality, as well. “

Payne said the two are as complementary as they could be, both on and off the field.

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“You know, speaking of my mom, she’s always described T and I, our coaching style is kind of the yin and yang of a perfect match. So while I’m always pretty level-headed and I’m really never too high or too low, what’s whatever is going on, good or bad, T is like all the passion and fire and excitement and hardness and really everything we want our program to be about,” she said. “And then I would say out of court, T is probably the most important person in my life, especially with the kids, but he has challenged me to grow in ways I didn’t necessarily want to grow.”

Payne and Towns put to bed the tired notion that working with your partner could be anything but a drag.

“T’s my best friend. He’s been my best friend my entire adult life, since I went to college and now over 20 years later, so I can’t imagine coaching without him,” Payne said. “I don’t think I’d be nearly as effective as a coach, as a mentor, all those things without T here.”

The family atmosphere doesn’t just start and end with Payne and Towns, the two have kept a close-knit coaching staff for much of their time in Boulder. Shandrika Lee, assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, is in her fifth year with the duo, and assistant coach Alex Earl is also in her fifth year.

“I always say that in any organization you want the people you wage war with every day to be fully invested in what you do,” Towns said. “So for us it’s almost the opposite, I couldn’t see it any other way without a family atmosphere and every person in our staff and in our program and our players break every day, ‘family’, and that really takes on a whole new meaning in our program, because we really experience that every day.”

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