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Family comes first for CU women's basketball and the team's First Family

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

BOULDER, Colo. — Side by side for more than two decades, JR Payne and Toriano Towns have shared a bond much closer than most coaches could ever experience.

"Oh man, it was a long time ago," Payne said about how the two met. "The kids asked me the other day, 'how long have you and Daddy been married?' and I honestly couldn't remember."

"It's been quite some time!" Towns added. "Both JR and I attended St. Mary's College in California and we were both student athletes. I played college football and she played college basketball. Then, I became a practice player on the women's basketball squad in my offseason and we just developed a relationship from there."

Their own squad consists of three young children at home: two girls Aliyah Jordan, who are 13 and 10 respectively, and a six-year-old son named Jaxton, who they say runs the household. Their oldest daughter Arianna is 24.

But on the court in Boulder, the coaches collectively run the floor.

"J is very cerebral and she's very level-headed. She is very well-studied. She really is a technician and a great teacher of the game," Towns said. "As a partner, she is pretty similar, she's a lot like her mom, who is very mellow. There could be a hurricane going on outside and they're just making their way through life, which I think is very similar to her on-court personality, as well."

Payne said the two are as complimentary as they could be both on and off the court.

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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 fit. So while I'm always pretty level-headed and I'm really never too high or too low no matter what is going on, good or bad, T is like all passion and fire and excitement and toughness and really everything that we want our program to be about," she said. "And then I would say off the court, T is probably the most important person in my life, certainly with the children, but he has challenged me to grow in ways that I haven't necessarily wanted to grow."

Payne and Towns are putting to bed the tired idea that working with your spouse could be anything but a layup.

"T is my best friend, he's been my best friend for my entire adult life, since I went off to college and now 20-plus 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, any of those things without T here, as well."

The family atmosphere doesn't just start and end with Payne and Towns, the two have kept a close 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 in any organization, you want the people you go to war with on a daily basis to be fully invested in what you're doing," Towns said. "So for us, it's almost the opposite, I couldn't see doing it any other way without a family atmosphere and every single person on our staff and in our program and our players break down every day, 'family,' and that really takes on an all new meaning in our program, because we really live that on a daily basis."

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