Pope comes home to coach Cats

Published 2:23 pm Friday, April 12, 2024

Kentucky turned to one of its own to coach the Wildcats.

Mark Pope, a former player and most recently head coach at Brigham Young University, was hired as men’s basketball coach Friday morning. Pope was a captain on the school’s 1996 national championship team and has been a head coach for the past nine seasons.

During his time at BYU and Utah Valley, Pope compiled a 187-108 record and his team’s have won 20 or more games in six of the past seven years. The Cougars transitioned to the Big 12 Conference under Pope and his team had success, defeating Baylor, Kansas, Iowa Stat and Kansas State.

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“Mark Pope not only brings an impressive record in nine years as a head coach, but also a love of the University of Kentucky and a complete understanding of what our program means to the people of our state,” Barnhart said in a statement. “As a captain on the ‘96 championship team, Mark was a beloved and respected teammate. As a head coach, he is highly regarded nationally as an innovator. His teams run a unique and dynamic up-tempo offense and they get after it on defense. He is a strong recruiter with international ties and a person of integrity.”

Since John Calipari stepped down after 15 seasons to take a similar post at Arkansas, Barnhart has conducted a brief search that included Baylor coach Scott Drew and Connecticut coach Danny Hurley. Both coaches turned down overtures on Wednesday.

The search shifted to Pope on Wednesday night and a deal was in place by Thursday morning. Pope embraces the return to coach his alma mater.

“The University of Kentucky is the pinnacle of coaching in college basketball,” he said. “It’s the definition of blueblood program where hanging a banner is the expectation ever year. Equally as important, UK changed my life forever as a human being. The love and passion I have for this program, this University and the people of the commonwealth goes to the depth of my soul.”

Pope was selected in the second round of the 1996 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. He played professional basketball from 1997-2005, including stints with Indiana, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets. In 2000-01, he started 45 games and helped the Bucks reach the Eastern Conference Finals.

Pope’s Cougars were statistically among the top offenses in the nation last season. The Cougars finished the season ranked first in 3-point field goal percentage, second in assist-to-turnover ratio, third in field-goal percentage, fourth in 3-point field goals per game and fifth in assists per game.