Pitino: Pope will lead Wildcats to ‘greatness’

Published 1:46 pm Monday, April 15, 2024

Rick Pitino is all in on new Kentucky coach Mark Pope and gave his former player and captain a strong endorsement after he was officially named coach of the Wildcats on Friday.

Through a video posted in social media, Pitino, the former Kentucky coach now entering his second season at St. John’s, said Friday was a “very special day for the University of Kentucky.”

“The leader, the captain of the ‘Untouchables,’ is coming home to lead the Wildcats,” he said. “Mark Pope offensively, no one does it better. The way his teams move, the way his teams shoot the three — the ball movement, the player movement, is outstanding.”

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Pitino recalled his first season at Kentucky when John Pelphrey was nearly all tears after putting on the Kentucky uniform before every game and the former Kentucky coach asked why Pelphrey why he become so emotional.

“He said, ‘Coach, you don’t understand what this means to all of us from Kentucky,’” Pitino recalled. “I can guarantee one thing: Nobody epitomizes the name Kentucky on the front of the jersey more than Mark Pope.”

As for Pope’s resume of no NCAA Tournament wins at Kentucky, Pitino said Billy Donovan, Danny Hurley and Jay Wright all struggled early in their coaching careers but eventually succeeded.

“They all had their trials and tribulations as well early on,” Pitino said. “Mark Pope (and BYU) moved to the Big 12 this year, beat Kansas at Kansas and beat Baylor at home and in his first year (in the league) got to the NCAA. … What you don’t realize, it took Jay Wright 11 years to finally get an NCAA win. Billy Donovan was at Marshall for two years and didn’t have an NCAA appearance and he went on to greatness. Mark Pope will go on to greatness. You can put it down.”

Pitino added that Pope also has the skills it takes to succeed as a coach and how much of a “relentless recruiter he will be.”

“You have one of the premier coaches in the game,” Pitino said. “Relish it, because he will do you proud. I sit here today at St. John’s and I couldn’t be any more prouder than to see Mark Pope lead the Kentucky Wildcats to another championship. He will get it done. … he loves, absolutely loves Kentucky across his chest. Get it done, Mark. I love ya. You will do a fabulous job.”