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REPORT: Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart closing in on BYU head coach Mark Pope for open men’s basketball job

Jack Weaver
Kentucky Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart watches the Kentucky vs. No. 1 South Carolina womens basketball game on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2023, at Memorial Coliseum in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jack Weaver | Kentucky Kernel

Per reports, Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart has zeroed in on BYU head coach Mark Pope to fill the vacant men’s basketball coaching position left by John Calipari.

Pope, a former Kentucky player, led the Cougars to an NCAA Tournament appearance this season in the team’s first year in the Big 12 conference before being unceremoniously dumped in the first round by A10 automatic bid winner Duquesne.

Pope took over BYU in 2019 when the team was in the West Coast Conference (WCC) and led the team to a 24-8 season, finishing No. 14 in the country but missing out on the WCC title, which was won by Gonzaga. No NCAA Tournament was held that season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Since then he amassed an 86-44 overall record, including a 19-14 2022-23 season, and has yet to earn an NCAA Tournament victory, losing to No. 11 UCLA in 2021, going into the NIT in 2022, missing the postseason altogether in 2023 and being upset by No. 11 Duquesne this season.

Prior to BYU, Pope was the head coach of Utah Valley, his first head coaching gig. Being with the Wolverines from 2015-19, Pope led UVU to three postseasons — all in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) — going out in the semifinals once and the quarterfinals twice.

His remaining coaching history included being an assistant coach for Georgia, Wake Forest and BYU.

Most Kentucky fans will know him better as a player, with Pope attending Kentucky from 1994-96, under then head coach Rick Pitino, after spending two seasons with Washington.

He, along with Jeff Sheppard — father of Reed Sheppard — were on the 1996 Kentucky men’s basketball team that hoisted the national championship, the sixth in school history.

Pope was selected in the second round of the 1996 NBA Draft as the No. 52 overall pick by the Indiana Pacers. He spent a year in Turkey for Anadolu Efes S.K. before returning to the Pacers for two seasons.

He then jumped to the La Crosse Bobcats, a Continental Basketball Association (CBA) — a league that ceased to exist in 2009 — before venturing back to Turkey.

After a few years in Turkey he returned to the United States where he played for the Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets before his playing career came to an end in 2005.

Kentucky fans on social media reacted harshly to the hiring, with shock and dismay, with fans having hoped for a name on the level of Dan Hurley or Billy Donovan, the former of which firmly declined and the latter of which is wrapped up with the NBA.

No contract has been signed as of this point, but the deal is expected to go through with CBS and ESPN reporting the move is set to happen.

The Kentucky Kernel will continue to provide updates as they become available.

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